Kentucky hires BYU's Mark Pope as men's basketball coach

April 12 (UPI) -- The Kentucky Wildcats hired BYU's Mark Pope as their new men's basketball coach, they announced Friday.

"The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball," Pope said in a news release. "It's the definition of blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation ever year.

"Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the Commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul."

Pope, 51, led the Cougars to a 23-11 record and NCAA tournament appearance in 2023-24.

Pope posted a 110-52 overall record, including two tournament runs, over the last five seasons with the Cougars. He also led Utah Valley to a 77-56 record from 2015-16 through 2018-19.

Pope also played at Kentucky, under former coach Rick Pitino. He was on Pitino's 1996 Wildcats championship team, and became a second-round pick by the Indiana Pacers in the 1996 NBA Draft.

He also played for the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets. Before Utah Valley, Pope worked as an assistant at Georgia, Wake Forest and BYU.

"Mark Pope not only brings an impressive record in nine years as a head coach, but also a love of the University of Kentucky and a complete understanding of what our program means to the people of our state," Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said.

"As a captain on the '96 championship team, Mark was a beloved and respected teammate. As a head coach, he is highly regarded nationally as an innovator. His teams run a unique and dynamic up-tempo offense and they get after it on defense. He is a strong recruiter with international ties and a person of integrity.

"He fully embraces our high expectations and standards and I know that as our fans get reacquainted with Mark, they will be eager to join him on what promises to be an exciting ride."

BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe also thanked Pope for the nine years he spent with the program.

"His unique combination of passion, dedication, creativity and excitement has inspired our BYU community," Holmoe said. "He led our team to a very successful inaugural Big 12 season, and left the program in a position of strength moving forward. There is a lot for Cougar Nation to be excited about right now.

"We wish Mark all the best as the head coach at his alma mater. He will always be a part of our BYU family."

News of Pope's hiring came a day after Baylor coach Scott Drew, a rumored John Calipari replacement, announced he would return to the Bears in 2024-25.

Other coaches linked to the job, including UConn's Dan Hurley and Alabama's Nate Oats, also reaffirmed their commitments to their schools in recent days.