Men's Basketball
Pope 'Understands the Assignment' of Being UK Basketball Head Coach

Pope 'Understands the Assignment' of Being UK Basketball Head Coach

by Tim Letcher

Several times on Sunday during his introductory press conference, new Kentucky men’s basketball head coach Mark Pope said a particular phrase that proves he knows what he’s getting into by taking this position.

“That’s the job,” Pope said. “I understand the assignment.”

Pope knew just the chords to strike during Sunday’s event at Rupp Arena, one that had the venerable facility packed to the rafters. Pope played at Kentucky, learned at Kentucky and, perhaps most importantly, became who he is today because of Kentucky.

“I love this place from the depths of my soul,” Pope said. “It changed my entire life.”

At one point in the press conference, Pope had his wife Lee Anne and his four daughters (Ella, Avery, Layle and Shay) stand up in front of the capacity crowd.

“I want you to turn around and, Pope family, I want to introduce you to our family,” he said, gesturing to the scores of UK fans in attendance.

When asked what kind of recruiting pitch he would use to help bring players to Lexington, Pope again spoke very highly of UK.

“There is no doubt that there are great programs all around this country,” Pope said. “There are great programs. There is no doubt. And that’s true and it is also true that there is nowhere like the University of Kentucky. There is nowhere.”

Pope knows there are expectations at Kentucky. And he’s prepared to embrace and take on those expectations.

“Every coach in America at every other job in America stands up at the press conference and they try and moderate expectations,” Pope said. “We don’t do that here at Kentucky. When Mitch (Barnhart) called me and talked to me about being the head coach here at Kentucky, I understand the assignment. We are here to win banners.”

Pope made it clear what banners he was talking about.

“As we go through this journey, we’re here to win banners in Nashville, because you guys turn out in Nashville like nobody else and that matters,” Pope said. “And we are here, our job here, our assignment is to go win banners in the Final Four, win national championships. That’s our job.”

When talking about his BYU team from this past season, Pope pointed out how good they were while furthering the point that he’s embracing expectations at UK.

“You know that my team last year made the second most threes in all of college basketball,” Pope said. “But at Kentucky we don’t come in second. My team last year had the fourth most assists in the country, and at Kentucky we share everything.”

At another point during the press conference, Pope pulled out one of his former Kentucky jerseys. He wants future players to know just how special it is to be able to wear the blue and white.

“What all of the future players will learn really quick is that they are not doing those jerseys a favor by letting the jerseys clothe them,” Pope said. “Our guys will know quickly, and it is hard not to know, it will be one of the great honors of their life to put that jersey on. There is only a select few players in the world that ever get to wear a Kentucky jersey, to wear a Kentucky jersey, it is one of the greatest honors guys can ever have as a basketball player.”

Kentuckians have always loved teams that are scrappy and that play hard. Pope indicated that his teams will be in that same mold.

“You will hear from me every single day, 24/7 work, relentless 24/7 work,” Pope said. “I learned that here.”

What other qualities did he learn during his time in Lexington?

“I learned about resilience here. And here at Kentucky resilience is a requirement. It is not an exception, it is a requirement, and I learned that here,” Pope said. “I learned here about the passion wins championships. Passion wins championships.”

And Kentucky wins championships. That’s the reason Pope was tasked with coaching his alma mater. It’s a task that he fully understands and embraces.

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