Mark Pope adds another familiar face to his first Kentucky basketball coaching staff

Mark Pope has made another addition to his first Kentucky basketball staff, and the latest hire has a history with the new Wildcats head coach.

Nick Robinson, who served as an assistant coach on Pope’s staff for all five of his seasons at BYU, was officially announced Monday as the newest member of the UK basketball staff. Robinson will have the title of director of operations.

“Nick Robinson has worked in college basketball in every capacity from being a special assistant to the head coach to the head coach himself,” Pope said in a statement. “He’s had incredible success, worked in every area of the country, has a great track record and an incredible future in front of him. Along with being a terrific coach, he was a great player in his own right, hitting one of the most famous shots in the history of the Pac-12.

“As a Stanford grad, he’s incredibly intelligent and has boundless energy and intensity. Nick is meticulously organized and extremely passionate about building a high-level program. We’re happy to have him on staff.”

Pope was officially announced as UK’s new head coach April 12 — replacing John Calipari, who left for Arkansas after 15 seasons in Lexington — and hired four assistant coaches shortly after settling in at Kentucky.

Already on UK’s staff for next season were longtime Baylor assistant Alvin Brooks III, veteran college head coach Mark Fox, ex-BYU assistant Cody Fueger and former G League Ignite head coach Jason Hart.

UK also announced Monday that Randy Towner has been hired as the program’s head strength coach.

College teams are now permitted to have five full assistant coaches on staff, though only three are allowed to engage in off-campus recruiting activities. Brooks, who has the title of associate head coach, Fueger and Hart will be UK’s three coaches who also join Pope on the recruiting trail.

Fox will be able to engage in other coaching duties — including on-campus recruiting efforts — during Pope’s first season. Robinson is expected to fill an administrative, non-coaching role in his first year with the Wildcats.

Pope has signed a five-year contract worth $27.5 million — along with opportunities for additional bonuses and on-court incentives — while Fueger agreed to a two-year contract, and Fox a one-year deal. Contract terms for Brooks and Hart have not yet been made public.

Nick Robinson spent four seasons as the head coach at Southern Utah and has been with Mark Pope at BYU for the past five years.
Nick Robinson spent four seasons as the head coach at Southern Utah and has been with Mark Pope at BYU for the past five years.

Robinson, 44, was born in Salt Lake City and spent part of his childhood in England — his father was a professional basketball player there — before graduating from high school in Missouri and ultimately playing for Stanford in college.

The Cardinal made the NCAA Tournament in all four seasons Robinson played there, including a 30-2 campaign during his junior year, when Stanford won its first 26 games, taking the Pac-10 regular-season and tournament championships and earning a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Robinson was a team captain during his junior and senior seasons, and the 6-foot-6 forward averaged 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in his final year of college. He graduated with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford in 2005.

His playing days included hitting a 35-footer at the buzzer to lift Stanford over No. 12 Arizona in 2004.

He also served a two-year Mormon mission in Brazil between high school and college, the same path as incoming UK freshman Collin Chandler, who recently returned to the United States from his mission and originally committed to BYU out of high school.

Robinson began his college coaching career a year after graduation, first joining Trent Johnson’s staff at Stanford and later becoming an assistant under Johnson at LSU, spending five seasons in total working for his former college coach.

He spent four seasons as the head coach at Southern Utah, compiling a 29-90 record for a program that has made only one NCAA Tournament in its history.

After that, Robinson spent two seasons as an assistant at Seattle University before Pope hired him to be part of his first coaching staff at BYU, where he’s spent the past five years, helping the Cougars make two NCAA Tournament appearances (with a third March Madness berth lost in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

Mark Pope spent the past five years as head coach of the BYU Cougars, finishing fifth in the Big 12 and earning a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season.
Mark Pope spent the past five years as head coach of the BYU Cougars, finishing fifth in the Big 12 and earning a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season.

Robinson also worked alongside Fueger for the past five years at BYU, and he helped coach new UK commitment Jaxson Robinson over the past two seasons. The Cougars compiled a 110-52 record in his five years on staff.

“Every single day, every single minute he’s on the court — every single minute in his office — he’s got an intensity about him that spreads throughout the entire program,” Pope said in a BYU Sports Nation feature on Robinson during his tenure there.

Robinson was initially expected to remain with the Cougars under new head coach Kevin Young, but he’ll make the move with Pope and Fueger to Lexington instead, giving the UK coaching staff another link to Pope’s past success in Provo.

“What a privilege to be joining the Kentucky basketball family,” Robinson said. “I’m grateful to Mitch Barnhart and Coach Pope for the opportunity to work with incredible people who strive for excellence in every aspect of the program. The best fans in the country, my family and I are excited to represent BBN and our amazing players.”

UK’s new strength coach

Towner joins Pope’s staff as head strength and conditioning coach after spending the past two seasons with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

“Randy Towner is one of the elite strength and conditioning coaches in all of basketball,” Pope said. “He spent time in the college ranks before moving on to one of the best staffs in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks. Our guys are blessed to have him here. He has a ton of juice, a wealth of expertise and will embrace what Kentucky basketball is all about.”

Towner replaces Brady Welsh, who spent two seasons in the same role on John Calipari’s staff.

Towner worked under four different head coaches during his two years in Milwaukee, where he served as assistant strength and conditioning coach last season.

Like Robinson, Towner has a history with UK’s new head coach. Towner was strength and conditioning coach on Pope’s staff at Utah Valley before Pope moved on to BYU.

“I could not be more excited to join Coach Pope’s staff again,” said Towner, who has a bachelor’s degree from Utah and a master’s degree from Southern Utah. “We had a great experience working together at Utah Valley and I’m excited for the chance to work with him again here at Kentucky. We want to step in and be the best performance staff in the country and help this program win a national championship. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we are up for the challenge.”

Coach Mark Pope’s contract with UK basketball is now official. Here are the details.

Did Pope make good hires for his first UK basketball staff? Their ex-players talked to us.

Former BYU standout Jaxson Robinson withdraws from NBA draft and commits to Kentucky

How NBA draft deadline decisions affect UK, Calipari and the rest of college basketball

You know what Mark Pope is doing. What’s John Calipari been up to down in Fayetteville?

What qualifies as success for Mark Pope in year one at Kentucky?

UK’s Pope won an NCAA title as a player. Could that be a recruiting advantage as a coach?

How much do basketball recruits care about coaching changes? UK could be a test case.