Men's Basketball
Basketball Cats Learning New System and Each Other

Basketball Cats Learning New System and Each Other

by Tim Letcher

When new head coach Mark Pope began to assemble his first University of Kentucky basketball roster, he went after specific types of players. Pope hoped that the group would feed off each other and make the team better in the long run.

Through six summer practices, Pope is seeing his team develop quickly.

“There have been very few surprises, in terms of what we thought,” Pope said. “The pieces fit. One of the things about working the portal is that guys have a resume and you can see over and over again what they do in college and our guys have certainly lived up to that billing. Sometimes you get veteran players and they’re less malleable and less coachable and they’ve kind of done what they’ve done and they’re less responsive. The thing that’s been surprising is that these guys have been incredibly willing to grab on to any instruction and really run with it.”

Pope and his staff hoped to find hungry players who were eager to be part of the program and to learn the new UK system. So far, it seems that this group is doing exactly that.

“I think one of the markers of great players and player with a high ceiling is that they’re coachable,” Pope said. “Here’s the reason why – you grow fast when you’re coachable. If we’re trying to teach a concept or an approach to the game and a player is pretty stubborn about it, you’re stunted and you can’t move on to teaching the thing, to growing the next skill. So, it’s been really fun to watch these guys. They’re going fast and we’re going fast.”

One of the worries about having 12 new players is learning a new system. However, BYU transfer Jaxson Robinson has been a big help on and off the court. Robinson played for Pope at BYU and is making a big difference for the Cats so far.

“It’s a gift. I bumble around, saying what I’m saying and Jaxson says, alright guys, this is what he means,” Pope said. “He’s a great interpreter. He’s not just an interpreter of words and concepts on the court, but he will also double down and say, hey guys, this is really important. What we just heard, you’re going to hear this every day the rest of the season. He’s a really vital piece and it doesn’t hurt that he’s an NBA-caliber player.”

In addition to the new players learning Pope’s concepts, there’s also a chemistry that needs to be built on the squad. Pope believes that his happening quickly.

“There’s a couple of really specific ways and some 30,000-foot ways,” Pope said. “The 30,000-foot ways are when our guys are interacting. The more we see that, the more I’m like, the 30,000-foot level, we’re getting there. Getting a little more specific, the more I see my guys on the court holding each other accountable for the principles we’re teaching, is super exciting. And what’s really exciting is I hear the guys parroting the words we use. We say exactly what we mean and we say the same words over and over again. So, even just six practices in, you start to hear our guys to each other use our exact words, you’re like, oh, we’re making progress, we’re getting somewhere.”

While the 2024-25 Kentucky basketball team is months away from playing an actual game, and only six practices into its summer, Pope seems to have assembled the right pieces for how he wants his Cats to play. Having the correct players for that system has been, and will continue to be, key for Pope and his staff.

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