Pope continues to feel joy as UK head man

Published 8:30 am Monday, July 8, 2024

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He’s been the Kentucky head coach for almost three months now but the honeymoon period is not even close to over for Mark Pope.

He’s as happy and giddy now as the day Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart offered him the job after John Calipari’s departure and continues to do everything right to be embraced by UK fans.

Pope praised the Kentucky players picked in the draft. He’s said nothing but good things about Calipari. He’s interacted with fans at major NIL events like the one sponsored by Club Blue but also has been just as approachable anytime fans have seen him out in Lexington or anywhere else.

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He’s welcomed La Familia, the Kentucky alumni team playing in the TBT (The Basketball Tournament), at Rupp Arena later this month.

“Every time that I get to walk into a building with UK on my chest, it just feels different recruiting. And it looks different. I’m a way handsomer guy with UK on my chest,” Pope said. “It just it just comes out of my soul, you know, every time I get to introduce myself to a recruit and say, ‘You know, I’m coach Pope, the head coach at the University of Kentucky.’ That doesn’t roll off my tongue, like it catches me every single time.

“I know what this job is, right? I know how blessed we are to have a chance to be here affiliated with this incredible university. I got to coach at a great institution before this at BYU that had some significant filters in terms of the players that would fit in that program.”

Pope understands UK also has its own “massive filters” because of the pressure on players to perform consistently at a high level.

“They’ve got to be the best players in the country and they have got to want to take on the most amount of pressure and scrutiny of any players in the country. They have the highest standard of any program in the country and so finding those pieces is different.”

Pope said last week that there had been “very few surprises” in terms of what he was expecting from players and what he got when they started practicing.

“The pieces fit,” Pope said.

Graduate transfer Amari Williams’ passing ability was a big reason Pope wanted him. At UK’s first practice, Pope watched Williams start “diming” guys up with pinpoint passes for easy scores and “all of a sudden everybody starts cutting harder” to get open.

“One of the things about working the portal is that guys have such a resume that you can see over and over again what they do in college. Our guys have certainly lived up to that billing,” Pope said.

He cited San Diego State transfer Lamont Butler for being “taking a little piece of advice and implementing” what he was told immediately. Wake Forest transfer Andrew Carr has been “incredible” in different areas.

“’Its really wonderful to see these veteran guys and how excited they are to grow and learn and are willing to try new things,” the Kentucky coach said.

Kentucky is allowed to practice an hour a day four days a week so Pope is trying to move at a “lightning fast pace” to give players a bigger, grander overview” of what he wants to do this season.

“We’ve been super aggressive on everything we’re installing right now. The guys have been really receptive. That’s the other thing about veteran guys. They pick stuff up really fast and, and so that’s been a major difference. I’ve never approached an offseason like this,” Pope said.