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Pope honors the past but looks to the future – Harlan Enterprise
Pope honors the past but looks to the future – Harlan Enterprise

Pope pays tribute to the past but looks to the future

Published on Wednesday, July 10, 2024, 8:00 a.m.

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

“Cal is one of the best coaches there’s ever been,” Pope said. “He’s made it to four Final Fours in five years, coached a billion draft picks and represented Kentucky really, really well and given this place his heart and soul.”

Pope added that he is “as much a member of BBN as anyone else” and “we should all be eternally grateful to him.” As successful as Calipari was in his 15 seasons at Kentucky, Pope has carved out his own niche since beginning his coaching career at Utah Valley State and then working for five years at Brigham Young University.

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

The Kentucky coach is comfortable in his own skin and is “a firm believer in what we do.” In four of his five seasons in Provo, Utah, he led the Cougars to 20 or more wins.

“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 of Kentucky basketball and make it work the way we know how to do it and the way we really believe is going to work.”

Since taking his dream job, Calipari has been “extremely generous,” Pope said, and he is grateful for the support of his predecessor.

“I had the opportunity to talk to him several times,” Pope said. “He was always generous throughout my career. He was so great to me. When you take this job, it’s the only one of its kind. We have to do it as well as we can and be ourselves. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

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

“We’re in the same league and we’re going to compete against each other here in Rupp this year. And it’s going to be hot,” Pope told John Fanta of Fox Sports. “There’s going to be fireworks because that’s what Cal is, that’s why he’s so good and that’s how we’re going to represent the University of Kentucky for sure.”

By Aurora