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Kentucky Basketball Officially Announces John Calipari’s Replacement

Mark Pope
Former BYU head coach Mark Pope. Photo via BYU Men’s Basketball on X.

The University of Kentucky has announced John Calipari’s replacement as head coach of the Wildcats men’s basketball program.

Former BYU head coach Mark Pope will take the reigns as the 23rd head coach in Kentucky program history. As a college basketball player in the early to mid-90s, Pope played his first two years at Washington before transferring to Kentucky for his final two years. Pope was a two-time SEC Championship winner and was a team captain for the Wildcats’s National Championship-winning team in 1996.

“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,” UK AD Mitch Barnhart said in a statement on Friday. “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.”

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Pope’s first four years as a head coach in college basketball were spent at Utah Valley from 2015 to 2019. Pope accumulated a 77-56 record with the Wolverines before moving to the West Coast Conference with BYU. Pope spent five years as the Cougars’ head coach and went 110-52 during that span. In BYU’s first season in the Big 12 this past season, the Cougars went 23-11 with a 5th-place finish in the conference.

Pope went to two NCAA Tournaments in four years with the Cougars (2020 tournament cancelled) and lost in the first round both times.

Kentucky reportedly made attempts to get UConn’s Dan Hurley or Baylor’s Scott Drew but struck out on both. The buzz online was that Kentucky might wait until the end of the NBA season to pursue the Chicago Bulls’ Billy Donovan, but it looks as though Barnhart felt confident in his decision to bring back the former championship-winning Wildcat.

Kentucky’s coaching hire comes in the midst of widespread change around the SEC. Texas and Oklahoma are set to enter the conference this summer, Arkansas just hired John Calipari, Kentucky now has Mark Pope, and the transfer portal is immediately making noise. Tennessee has seen four players enter the portal so far including Jonas Aidoo, Tobe Awaka, Freddie Dilione, and DJ Jefferson.

Tennessee and Kentucky have gone 6-6 in their last 12 games against each other with the Vols and Wildcats splitting their regular season games this season. Tennessee dropped more than one hundred points in a 103-92 win in Rupp Arena in February while Kentucky beat Tennessee in the final game of the regular season in Knoxville.

To see Kentucky’s full press release from Friday morning, click here.

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