John Calipari recently made the surprising decision to leave the Kentucky basketball team for the head coaching job at Arkansas. The Wildcats went through their head coaching search and there were some potential candidates that passed on the gig. Kentucky ended up hiring BYU head coach and former Wildcats player Mark Pope, and former Kentucky head coach and current St. John's head coach *catches breath* Rick Pitino is very confident that he will do a great job.

Rick Pitino was the head coach of the Kentucky basketball team for a long time in the late 80s and 90s before leaving for the Boston Celtics. Then, a few years later, he came back to coach the college game at Louisville, Kentucky's rival. He coached there for 15 years, but he still loves the Wildcats and is excited for Mark Pope to be the new head coach. Pope was a captain of the 1996 national title team that Pitino coached.

What a special day for the University of Kentucky,” Pitino said in a video that he posted on Twitter. “The leader, the captain of the untouchables, is coming home to lead the Wildcats. A lot of people out there talk about Jay Wright, Danny Hurley, Billy Donovan. They all had their trials and tribulations as well early on, but Mark Pope went into the Big 12 this year, beat Kansas, beat Baylor at home and in his first year got to the NCAA (tournament). Mark Pope, offensively, no one does it better. The way his teams move, the way his teams shoot the three, the ball movement, the player movement is outstanding. What you don't realize is it took Jay Wright 11 years to finally get an NCAA (national title), when Billy Donovan was at Marshall for two years didn't have an NCAA (tournament) appearance. He went on to greatness. Mark Pope will go on to greatness, you can put it down.”

Mark Pope understands Kentucky basketball

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope keeps an eye on the action against the Duquesne Dukes in the first round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at CHI Health Center Omaha
© Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Being a former Kentucky basketball player is huge for Mark Pope. He gets what it means to put on that uniform, and he knows how important the team is to the fan base.

“I remember as if it was yesterday John Pelphrey getting misty eyes in my first year as a basketball coach at Kentucky,” Rick Pitino continued. “Every time he put on the uniform he was near tears and I said ‘John what is with you? Every time you put that uniform on?' He said ‘coach you just don't understand what this means to all of us from Kentucky.' Well, I can guarantee you one thing. Nobody. Nobody epitomizes the name Kentucky on the front of the jersey more than Mark Pope.”

One thing is certain, Rick Pitino is very confident that Mark Pope is going to lead Kentucky basketball to great things.

“Some of you don't realize how good a basketball mind he has,” Pitino added. “How how much of a relentless recruiter he will be. Now recruiting is different today. We're now coaching all pros. The NIL has made them has take away amateur basketball and has made them professional athletes. I'm sure Kentucky is going to have a strong NIL. You have one of the premier young coaches in the game. Relish it because he will do you proud. I know I sit here today at St. John's and I couldn't be any more proud than to see Mark Pope lead the Kentucky Wildcats to another championship. He'll get it done. He's got the right stock. He's got a beautiful family and he loves, absolutely loves Kentucky across his chest. Get it done, Mark, I love you. You're gonna do a fabulous job.”

A new era at Kentucky is officially under way.