New UK men’s basketball coach Mark Pope attends 2024 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

The Kentucky Derby is always a chance for A-listers and celebrities to be seen at one of the most well-known sporting events in the United States.

On Saturday, it was new Kentucky basketball coach Mark Pope’s turn to embrace that spotlight.

Pope — the former head coach at BYU and Utah Valley who was hired to replace John Calipari as the Wildcats’ head coach on April 12 — was at Churchill Downs on Saturday afternoon ahead of the running of the 150th Kentucky Derby.

Earlier on Saturday, former UK basketball player Reed Sheppard walked the red carpet at Derby 2024.

A key member of Kentucky’s 1996 national championship squad, Pope has been logging significant travel hours in recent weeks as he assembles a roster from scratch for the 2024-25 season.

Pope’s recruiting endeavors have taken him everywhere from Oklahoma to Las Vegas this offseason. On Friday morning, Pope was in Utah to greet incoming UK player Collin Chandler at an airport. Chandler, who was formerly signed to play for Pope at BYU, was returning home from a two-year mission trip for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Prior to his arrival Saturday at Churchill Downs, Pope and his fellow UK coaching staff members lodged their Derby picks. Pope went with Sierra Leone, the winner of the 100th running of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland earlier this spring.

Each of the five UK coaching staff members went with a different horse as their Derby selection.

During the short period of time that Pope has been back in Central Kentucky, he’s also been a frequent visitor at Keeneland. Pope took former Drexel forward and future Kentucky Wildcat Amari Williams to Keeneland as part of his recruiting visit to Lexington.

When Pope was at Keeneland with Williams, he was interviewed by FanDuel Racing.

“We’re deeply into the work right now and enjoying every second of it,” Pope said during that interview. “I’m not sure exactly what I’m allowed to talk about and not, but we’re here on business. So, we’re trying to get some work done.”

Williams is one of seven players from the NCAA transfer portal that has committed to play for Pope at UK this offseason.

Pope has also been seen at Keeneland with UK basketball legend Dan Issel.

In total, nine players are part of Pope’s first Kentucky roster for next season. This group includes two first-year players, Chandler and in-state guard Travis Perry, a former star at Lyon County High School who is the all-time leading scorer in Kentucky high school boys basketball history.

The other seven additions have all come via the transfer portal.

They are third-year guard Otega Oweh (Oklahoma), fifth-year guards Koby Brea (Dayton), Lamont Butler (San Diego State) and Kerr Kriisa (Arizona and West Virginia), fifth-year forwards Amari Williams (Drexel) and Andrew Carr (Delaware and Wake Forest) and second-year center Brandon Garrison (Oklahoma State).

Pope has four more scholarship spots that he could fill for his 2024-25 roster.

Mark Pope attends the 150th Kentucky Derby. “Grateful for friends and family and the Kentucky Derby!!!” he posted online.
Mark Pope attends the 150th Kentucky Derby. “Grateful for friends and family and the Kentucky Derby!!!” he posted online.

This UK basketball roster took a weird turn. ‘I’m very intrigued,’ says analytics expert.

Here’s who Mark Pope and the new UK basketball coaches are picking in the Kentucky Derby

The transfer portal closes now. Where UK basketball stands, and what’s next for Mark Pope.

Live 2024 Kentucky Derby odds: Fierceness 7-2 favorite one hour before race

Who should you bet on in the 2024 Kentucky Derby? Here’s who the experts are picking.

How 2024 Kentucky Derby horses have run on sloppy or wet tracks

Here are the long shots to bet who could beat the favorites in Kentucky Derby 2024

How to enjoy the 150th Kentucky Derby: Everything you need to know before race day

How every horse in the 2024 Kentucky Derby got its name and why it’s such a challenge

Here’s who owns every 2024 Kentucky Derby horse and how they amassed their fortunes.

Can a $2.3 million colt reward both Keeneland and a top trainer at the 2024 Kentucky Derby?

After last year’s problems, HISA and Churchill Downs take measures to avoid a repeat

After last year’s heartbreak, Mike Repole is back in same spot for Kentucky Derby 150

How will 20-horse starting gate affect 2024 Kentucky Derby horses and their post positions?

Fierceness is the favorite for 2024 Kentucky Derby. How often does the favorite win?

Which post positions in the Kentucky Derby starting gate produce the most race winners?

Trainer Larry Demeritte made it to Kentucky Derby 150. It’s a first for his home country.

‘Everyone is watching.’ Larry Collmus preps to announce the historic 150th Kentucky Derby.

At 150 years, the Kentucky Derby is older than ... almost everything. Its place in history.