Kentucky basketball head coach Mark Pope has big shoes to fill in the wake of John Calipari's departure to Arkansas. However, Pope and Calipari have a strong relationship, which will undoubtedly help Pope navigate the waters with the Wildcats.

Pope sounded off on his gratitude towards Calipari, via the College Hoops Today podcast.

“Yeah, I mean, listen. I’ll forever be grateful to Coach Cal,” said Pope. “I’ll be grateful for what he did at my alma mater at the University of Kentucky.”

The two first met when Pope played for Kentucky and Calipari coached for UMass in the 1990s. The two teams faced off regularly, providing Pope with priceless memories.

“Mind you, when I was playing here, he was the head coach at UMass. Like, we had an unbelievable rivalry,” remembered Pope. “He had a group with Marcus Camby, (Carmelo) Travieso, and that group in the backcourt. You know, we got to play each other in the Final Four.”

Rather than treating Pope as competition, Calipari took him under his wing when he started his coaching career.

“How he has been to me personally? He has been so generous to me personally,” Pope continued.

How will Pope's relationship with aid his tenure with the Wildcats?

Pope may learn the ropes faster at Kentucky basketball than most coaches would

University of Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart and new men’s basketball coach Mark Pope hold a new basketball jersey up during Pope’s press conference on Sunday, April 14, 2024.
© Clare Grant/Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Most coaches don't have any relationship with their predecessors. However, the fact that Pope has one with Calipari could give him a leg up over most coaches who have taken over a blue blood program for the first time. Although Pope is coming off of a five-year stint with BYU, helming a team like the Wildcats comes with a different level of pressure. Calipari's knowledge and experience will undoubtedly be invaluable resources.

“There’s no reason for my heart not to be full of gratitude to him,” Pope said. “He’s also one of the greatest coaches to ever coach in college basketball.”

Kentucky and Arkansas will face off in Lexington this upcoming season in what will be a full-circle moment for both men, via On3.

“For him to be in this league is great for basketball. It’s going to be great for Arkansas fans and certainly great for Big Blue Nation,” said Pope. “It’s going to be a battle. It is going to have some things become super personal. It’s one thing competing against somebody that you don’t know. It’s another thing competing against your brother. If you’ve done that in the backyard, it usually gets ugly because you love each other so much. I anticipate there’ll be some of that flavor in this with Coach Cal, for sure.”

The Wildcats should be able to stay competitive immediately as the Pope era begins. The program currently has the nation's fifth-ranked transfer class, via 247 Sports. Kentucky is looking to rebound after a disappointing finish last year, bowing out to 14th-seeded Oakland in the NCAA Tournament first round.

While it takes time to build clout and credibility in the coaching world, Pope and Calipari's relationship shows what's possible when two people have decades of longevity within the sport.