This could be a big week as Mark Pope builds UK’s roster. ‘You’ll need a little patience.’

The second full work week of the Mark Pope era is here, and this is likely to be an eventful one as the new Kentucky basketball coach continues the task of piecing together his first Wildcats roster and filling out his staff of assistants.

Last week, Collin Chandler officially became the first player of the Pope era, flipping his commitment from BYU to Kentucky while still on a two-year mission trip overseas. Chandler — a top-40 recruit in the 2022 class — will return to the United States on May 2, and he’s expected to arrive in Lexington not long after that. Chandler — a 6-foot-5 guard from Farmington, Utah — was projected as a player with NBA-level upside before leaving on his mission trip, and he’ll have about six months to round back into game shape before UK’s first contest of the 2024-25 season.

Who else will join Chandler on Kentucky’s roster?

Some fans were already getting a little antsy by the inactivity, but there are still plenty of talented players in the transfer portal, with more and more jumping into the mix every day. Pope hosted his first official visitor over the weekend — former Drexel forward Amari Williams — and he had committed to the Cats by Sunday night, becoming player No. 2 for next season’s roster.

Williams — a 6-foot-10, 265-pound forward — has been named the Coastal Athletic Association’s defensive player of the year in each of the past three seasons. He’s also a smooth-passing big man who should fit well in Pope’s offense.

It’s a good bet that more commitments will be coming over the course of this week.

UK’s coaching staff should also become more clear during the next few days, with BYU assistant Cody Fueger, former Georgia head coach Mark Fox and former G League Ignite head coach Jason Hart all expected to officially be announced as Pope staffers by the end of the week. That would leave Pope with two additional assistant coaching spots to fill.

Lynn Lloyd — co-director of the Utah Prospects grassroots basketball team and Chandler’s former AAU coach — got to know Pope and Fueger well over the past few years, and he told the Herald-Leader last week that he expects them to put a strong roster together in year one.

“As you’ve seen, he’s high energy. He knows what he wants,” Lloyd said. “Mark will be great. He can recruit. You’ll need a little patience. And I don’t mean yearly patience. I think he’ll get guys this year. But Mark is really connected. He’ll do good things. I don’t worry about Mark at all. He’ll be successful there. There isn’t any doubt in my mind.”

As of Monday morning, more than 20 of ESPN’s top 50 transfers in the portal were still uncommitted, and that list will continue to be updated as new players add their names to the pool. College players are allowed to enter the transfer portal up until May 1, and they can commit to a new school at any time after that date, so patience is indeed in order as Pope continues to identify and recruit his first team of Wildcats.

Here’s a closer look at Kentucky’s roster situation going into the week, along with the latest on what each of the Cats from the 2023-24 team are doing. Things will change in a hurry, and more serious UK targets should come into focus over the next few days.

Mark Pope was introduced as Kentucky’s new head coach during a ceremony in Rupp Arena on April 14.
Mark Pope was introduced as Kentucky’s new head coach during a ceremony in Rupp Arena on April 14.

Who’s next for Kentucky?

Travis Perry: This is a question of when, not if. Perry, who is Kentucky’s reigning Mr. Basketball, is fully expected to stick with his UK commitment and attended Pope’s introduction ceremony in Rupp Arena last week. The 6-2 guard from Lyon County is ranked No. 75 nationally in the 2024 class, according to 247Sports, and should officially announce soon that he’s coming to UK next season.

Commitment watch?

Great Osobor: A number of high-profile transfers have been linked to Kentucky over the past week, but the former Utah State big man is one to watch for the time being. Osobor — a 6-8, 250-pound forward from England — was a breakout star for the Aggies this past season, averaging 17.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals. ESPN places him at No. 4 nationally in its most recent transfer rankings, and he’d be a terrific addition for Pope’s offense — as well as a complement to Williams — with his passing ability out of the post and overall dynamic game. Look for more movement related to his recruitment as this week continues.

Richie Saunders: On the heels of Williams’ commitment Sunday evening, Kentucky will be hosting Saunders for an official visit. The 6-5 guard from Utah spent the past two seasons playing for Pope at BYU (after completing his two-year mission trip straight out of high school). Saunders was a key reserve for the Cougars this past season, averaging 9.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 20.7 minutes per game while shooting 36.4% from 3-point range. He entered the transfer portal on the same day that Pope was introduced to UK fans at Rupp Arena, and the timing of his visit suggests a commitment could be coming very soon.

A major addition?

Johnell Davis: This would be a big one. Davis — a 6-4 guard from Gary, Indiana — is rated by ESPN as the best available transfer in the country, and the momentum for a possible UK commitment down the line gained considerable steam as the weekend came to a close. He’s spent the past four seasons at FAU, where he helped lead that program to the Final Four last year and saw his personal numbers jump this past season, averaging 18.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 41.4% from 3-point range. Davis’ decision is not expected to be imminent, but this week begins with major UK buzz surrounding his recruitment. Arkansas (led by new coach John Calipari) is also pursuing him.

Still on the fence

Adou Thiero: Likely the only player from last season’s UK team who could still return to Lexington for the 2024-25 campaign, Thiero has cut his list to Arkansas, Indiana, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and a third year at Kentucky, where he emerged as a key part of Calipari’s team this past season. Thiero has no set timetable for a decision, and it’s still considered less likely than not that he’ll end up back in Lexington, but UK is at least on the list.

Jaxson Robinson: There’s been nothing to report in recent days on Robinson, a 6-7 guard who led BYU in scoring this past season with 14.2 points per game. The 22-year-old senior is No. 55 in ESPN’s NBA draft rankings. Robinson could enter and stay in the draft, but Kentucky will be viewed as the favorite if he decides to return to college for one more season. He will have until May 29 to make a final call on his NBA status (and could commit to a new school at any time after that date if he chooses to come back to college basketball).

Calipari players on the move

In addition to Thiero, nine other players from Calipari’s final Kentucky team still had college eligibility remaining at the end of the 2023-24 season. None of those players are expected to be back with the Wildcats for the first season of the Pope era.

Here’s a quick rundown of who’s going where:

Reed Sheppard: The national freshman of the year announced Thursday that he will enter the NBA draft and forgo the final three years of his NCAA eligibility, which was the long-expected result for the former Kentucky Mr. Basketball who surprisingly shot to stardom in his first year with the program. Sheppard is projected as a lottery pick.

Rob Dillingham: Another projected lottery pick, Dillingham announced that he was leaving for the NBA draft on the same day that Calipari announced his resignation. Dillingham’s departure was the least surprising development of this UK offseason.

Justin Edwards: Once projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 draft, Edwards’ stock fell in his freshman season, but ESPN still ranks him at No. 30 overall on its most recent list of the top 100 NBA draft prospects. He will stay in the draft.

Ugonna Onyenso: The sophomore center is No. 47 on ESPN’s list of the top draft prospects and has said he is fully focused on staying in the 2024 draft and is not expected to return to college.

Aaron Bradshaw: A former top-five national recruit, Bradshaw struggled in his first college season and has already announced a transfer to Ohio State.

Zvonimir Ivisic: Off to a late start as a freshman due to his delayed arrival in the United States and a prolonged NCAA investigation into his amateur status, Ivisic has already said he will follow Calipari to Arkansas, making him the first commitment for the new era in Fayetteville.

Joey Hart: After playing only 14 minutes during his freshman season, Hart will transfer to Ball State for year two of college.

D.J. Wagner: Long ranked as the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2023 class, Wagner is No. 48 in the latest NBA draft rankings from ESPN and has put his name in the transfer portal. Despite close family ties to Calipari, he is not a guarantee to follow the UK coach to Arkansas, though Wagner is also highly unlikely to return to Kentucky.

Jordan Burks: The final player from UK’s most recent team to make an announcement on his future, Burks jumped into the transfer portal Friday and is expected to end up with Calipari in Arkansas next season.

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