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OFFICIAL: Mark Pope hired as next head coach of Kentucky men’s basketball

Mark Pope. Image source from X, formerly known as Twitter, @markpopeukcoach

It’s official, as of Friday morning Mark Pope is officially the next head coach of Kentucky basketball.

News first broke late Thursday that Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart had zeroed in on Pope as the next man in charge of the Cats and it was made official Friday morning.

“Mark Pope not only brings an impressive record in nine years as a head coach, but also a love of the University of Kentucky and a complete understanding of what our program means to the people of our state,” Barnhart said to UK Athletics. “As a captain on the ‘96 championship team, Mark was a beloved and respected teammate. As a head coach, he is highly regarded nationally as an innovator. His teams run a unique and dynamic up-tempo offense and they get after it on defense. He is a strong recruiter with international ties and a person of integrity.”

As mentioned by Barnhart, Pope is no stranger to Kentucky, having suited up for the Cats in the ’90s under head coach Rick Pitino. With Kentucky Pope, alongside good friend Jeff Sheppard, led the Cats to hoist the 1996 national championship, the sixth in school history.

He would go to play professional basketball both in the United States and Turkey before retiring in 2005.

Following his retirement Pope became an assistant coach for the Georgia Bulldogs before moving to Wake Forest and then BYU.

It wasn’t long before a head coaching spot became available not 10 minutes from BYU at the lowly Utah Valley.

With the Wolverines Pope led UVU to three postseasons — all in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) — before his former job came calling with a head coaching opening.

Taking over as the head coach of the BYU Cougars, Pope spent five seasons in Provo, most of which saw the team in the West Coast Conference (WCC) until it joined the Big 12 this season.

In his first year in the Big 12 Pope exceeded expectations, leading the Cougars to the NCAA Tournament in a strong season that included a win at Kansas. BYU was upset by No. 11 Duquesne in the Round of 64.

When Kentucky head coach John Calipari jumped ship for Arkansas on Sunday night, a move made official on Monday, Barnhart and Pope’s alma mater came calling and Pope responded to the call.

“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball. It’s the definition of a blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation every year,” Pope said. “Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the Commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul. I’m thankful to Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach and I can’t wait to do this together!”

Per CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander, the deal is in place for five years and will see Pope make an average of $5.5 million per year.

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Cole Parke, Sports Editor

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    David BramerApr 12, 2024 at 10:26 am

    Time will tell, hope he does well!