Pope appreciates past but looks ahead to future

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, July 10, 2024

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Kentucky coach Mark Pope appreciates what John Calipari did during his tenure at UK.

“Cal is one of the great coaches who ever coached,” Pope said. “He went to four Final Fours in five years, coached a billion draft picks and represented Kentucky really, really well and gave his heart and soul to this place.”

Pope added he’s “just as much a member of BBN as anybody” and “all of us should be grateful to him forever.” As much success as Calipari had in his 15 seasons at Kentucky, Pope has carved out his own niche since he began his coaching career at Utah Valley State, followed by a five-year stint at Brigham Young University.

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“One of the things that you learn really early on, if you have great mentors in this game, is that you just have to coach like, I have to be me, right?” he said. “I can’t be coach (Rick) Pitino. I can’t be Tubby (Smith) and I can’t be Calipari. It would be disingenuous. And my guys wouldn’t actually believe it if I tried to take on that persona or personality or even approach to the game.”

The Kentucky coach has been comfortable in his own skin and is a “big believer in what we do.” He guided the Cougars to 20 or more wins in four of his five seasons in Provo, Utah.

“I love our staff,” he said. “I think right now we’re just trying to do everything we can to build on this incredible legacy that is Kentucky basketball and do it the way that we know how to do it, that we really believe is going to work.”

Since he has taken his dream job, Pope said Calipari has been ’super generous” and is appreciative of the support from his predecessor.

“I had a chance to speak with him several times,” Pope said. “He’s always been generous throughout my whole career. He’s been so great to me. As you step into this job, this is the only one of its kind. We’ve got to go do this, the best way we can and be us. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Calipari will make his return to Rupp Arena when Arkansas plays Kentucky next season and he expects a dramatic showdown.

“We’re in the same league and we get to go head-to-head here at Rupp this year. And it’s going to be fiery,” Pope told John Fanta of Fox Sports. “There will be fireworks because that’s how Cal is, that’s why he’s so good and that’s certainly how we’re going to represent the University of Kentucky.”