Mark Pope’s Kentucky basketball roster rebuild will require plenty of portal patience

Patience is a virtue, they say. It’s also a saying worth remembering as Mark Pope embarks on the great adventure of being the new Kentucky men’s basketball coach.

As of Tuesday morning, Pope’s UK roster for 2024-25 consisted of three players — Collin Chandler, the former BYU signee who is returning from a mission; Travis Perry, the state high school star and signee under now ex-UK coach John Calipari; and Amari Williams, the 6-foot-10 transfer from Drexel by way of England who committed to the Cats on Sunday.

Calipari’s other five signees are scattering. Karter Knox is joining Coach Cal in Arkansas. Jayden Quaintance, Somto Cyril, Boogie Fland and Billy Richmond have all de-committed, but have yet to announce their new destinations. One, if not all, is likely to wind up in Fayetteville.

There are no scholarship holdovers remaining from this past season’s roster. Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell are out of eligibility. Reed Sheppard, Rob Dillingham, Justin Edwards and Ugonna Onyenso have placed their names in the NBA draft with no intention of returning to the college game. D.J. Wagner, Adou Thiero and Jordan Burks are in the transfer portal. Aaron Bradshaw is relocating to Ohio State. Joey Hart is moving to Ball State. Zvonimir Ivisic is headed to Arkansas.

New Kentucky head coach Mark Pope, left, watches a horse race at Keeneland with Amari Williams. Formerly a four-year player at Drexel, Williams will transfer to UK for the 2024-25 season.
New Kentucky head coach Mark Pope, left, watches a horse race at Keeneland with Amari Williams. Formerly a four-year player at Drexel, Williams will transfer to UK for the 2024-25 season.

You need five players for a basketball team, of course. You need many more to fill out a roster. Most years, sitting in late April with only three names committed for next season would be cause for widespread panic across any fan base. Not this year.

Such is modern life in the portal. Each day brings another list of new names who have taken the plunge. Some are searching for more NIL money. Some want more playing time. Some seek a different experience. All are on the move. There’s a train every day, leaving either way.

Pope isn’t the only new coach scrambling. Five Michigan players have departed since Dusty May was named head coach. New Vanderbilt coach Mark Byington has eight open spots. At Arkansas, Calipari inherited a roster so thin — eight Razorbacks have hit the portal — he joked that he wanted to hold a team meeting but “there was no team.”

Despite reaching the Final Four for the first time in school history, Alabama has seen five players enter the portal. Nate Oats has brought in three transfers of his own, including former five-star Auburn guard Aden Holloway. Ohio State’s Jake Diebler, promoted from interim coach, has lost five, including Roddy Gayle, who transferred to Michigan. Auburn to Alabama? Ohio State to Michigan? It’s a brave new world.

Up the road, Pat Kelsey has seen a dozen now former Cardinals jump ship. But the new Louisville coach is off to a strong portal start with six commitments, including Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Terrence Edwards from James Madison and Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year Koren Johnson from Washington.

Indiana has reinforced its roster. Facing a hot-seat season, Mike Woodson has made the Hoosiers portal winners with Arizona center Oumar Ballo, Stanford combo guard Kanaan Carlyle and Washington State point guard Myles Rice.

The day Pope was officially announced as Kentucky coach, I talked to ex-UK coach Rick Pitino, who said he was watching video of “about 100 players in the portal” for possible additions to his St. John’s roster.

Kentucky’s new staff may be looking at twice that many. They have more spots to fill. Pope has reportedly met with Utah State star Great Osobor. Dayton standout Koby Brea has UK on a heavyweight consideration list of Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and UConn. Saint Mary’s point guard Aidan Mahaney may visit Lexington. Pope was spotted at Blue Grass Airport greeting his former BYU player Richie Saunders.

The new UK coach has said he wants talented players, but also the right players. He wants players who fit his system, his culture and his hopes for the program. This first season, Pope might need to make some players fit, however. Roster building might require a wider pool of candidates. It will also require patience.

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