Kentucky to hire Mark Pope: Five things to know about BYU coach with deep Wildcats ties

Kentucky to hire Mark Pope: Five things to know about BYU coach with deep Wildcats ties

Kentucky is zeroing in on hiring BYU coach Mark Pope to succeed John Calipari as the next head of the men’s basketball program, CBS Sports Matt Norlander reported on Thursday. Pope, the former Kentucky star who played under Rick Pitino at Kentucky from 1994-96, is returning to Lexington after spending the last five seasons at Brigham Young. Pope will replace Calipari, who spent the last 15 seasons with the Wildcats before taking the vacant job at Arkansas earlier this week.

Pope, 51, started his college career at Washington before transferring to Kentucky ahead of the 1994-95 season. Pope was a team captain on Kentucky’s national title team in 1996.

The two sides quickly engaged on Thursday afternoon, in the hours after Baylor’s Scott Drew and UConn’s Dan Hurley both turned down the job, Norlander reported. Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan and St. John’s coach Rick Pitino both were considered potential candidates for the job, but Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart didn’t pursue either, Norlander said.

Here is what to know about the newest Kentucky coach.

Deep Kentucky ties

Pope was an instrumental part of Kentucky bringing home its sixth national title in 1996. Pope averaged 7.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 20.3 minutes per game during his senior season in Lexington. Pope was roommates for two years at Kentucky with Jeff Sheppard — the father of current Kentucky star Reed Sheppard. The younger Sheppard was recently named CBS Sports Freshman of the Year, and he has yet to decide whether he will declare for June’s NBA Draft or return to school for his sophomore season.

Rising up the ranks 

After six seasons in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets, Pope decided to take some time away from the game before jumping into the coaching ranks. Pope started his career as director of basketball operations in the SEC at Georgia in 2009 under Mark Fox. He spent one season in Athens before departing for an assistant coaching job at Wake Forest. Pope landed his first head coaching job at Utah Valley six years later. After guiding Utah Valley to a 25-win campaign during the 2018-19 season, BYU hired Pope to take over the program where he spent the last five years.

Successful Year 1 in the Big 12

After BYU spent the first four seasons under Pope in the WAC, BYU joined the Big 12 this past summer. The Cougars finished the 2023-24 season with a 23-11 record in their first season and reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time in Pope’s tenure before falling to Duquesne in the first round. BYU recorded big conference wins over Iowa State, Texas, Baylor, and Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse under Pope’s watch. The Big 12 will expand during the 2024-25 season with Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah joining the conference from the Pac-12.

Pope’s coaching philosophy 

Pope is a fantastic X’s and O’s coach, and his high-scoring offense will translate perfectly to what Kentucky did well last season. Kentucky finished No. 2 in scoring offense (89 ppg) and knocked down 9.9 3-pointers per game, good enough for 16th. Under Pope, BYU finished third in 3-pointers made (11.1) and 41% of its total points came from distance, per BYU was No. 14 in adjusted offensive efficiency and finished with the 22nd-ranked scoring offense (81.4 ppg). Pope will likely target players who can connect on 3-pointers from a high clip when he starts to build his roster.

Pope’s recruiting history

Dating back to 2020 (Pope’s full recruiting class at BYU) here is where they finished in the 247Sports team recruiting rankings:

  • 2020: 80
  • 2021: 150
  • 2022: 80
  • 2023: N/A
  • 2024: 67

Ahead of this season, BYU didn’t sign a single high school prospect. The Cougars elected to add four players via the transfer portal: Kansas’ Marcus Adams Jr., Samford’s Ques Glover, UC Irvine’s Dawson Baker and Charlotte’s Aly Khalifa. Adams is technically a member of the 2023 recruiting class, but his journey to BYU was a roller coaster. He signed with Kansas last spring and enrolled at the school in June where he participated in practices before hitting the transfer portal in July. Adams signed with Gonzaga out of the transfer portal before committing to BYU in September.

Pope will have significant work to do upon his official arrival. Star freshmen Justin Edwards and Rob Dillingham declared for the NBA Draft, and key reserves Aaron Bradshaw and Adou Thiero entered the transfer portal. Under Calipari, Kentucky had the No. 2 recruiting class in the 2024 cycle. Five-star center Jayden Quaintance, four-star forward Karter Knox and four-star center Somto Cyril have all backed off of their respective pledges since. Four-star forward Billy Richmond, four-star guard Boogie Fland and four-star guard Travis Perry have yet to make their decision known.

BYU’s 2024 recruiting class has two signees: Three-star guard Brooks Bahr and three-star forward Isaac Davis.

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