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Everything Players and Staff Had to Say after Losing to Oakland

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© Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Kentucky’s 2023-24 season is over after getting upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to 14-seed Oakland. A lot of questions are surrounding the Kentucky basketball program.

Head coach John Calipari and players let all of the sadness out and spoke on the touching subjects after the loss.

John Calipari

Calipari really felt like this team was built March. “They shouldn’t be and our team and our season, defined by that game, but it will be. This one is painful. … This team, I really felt was built for this moment, even though we were young.”

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Calipari says the mistakes from the team was due to the youth. “We made some critical mistakes at critical times today. When you have a really young team and look at where did the mistakes come from, they were freshmen.” When asked if his philosophy will change moving forward, Calipari says he doesn’t know, but he has changed lives doing it the way he is. “”I’ve done this with young teams my whole career. It’s gonna be hard for me to change that because we’ve helped so many young people … I don’t see myself just saying, ‘Ok, we’re not going to recruit freshmen.’ … We have an unbelievable group coming in.”

It was clear, though, that Calipari really believed that this team could have done something special. “I just come back to, I hate it for these guys that people try to define this season by that game, and it’s natural and it’s how this business works but this group was a ball to coach.”

Players

Then, it was the players’ turns to talk with the media, and as you can imagine, it was a devastated locker room. Tre Mitchell, one of the veterans on the team, appreciated his time at Kentucky. “I’ve loved every single second of being at Kentucky. I got an opportunity to live out a dream, and I built bonds with people that will last a lifetime.”

Reed Sheppard was very emotional after the game, talking about how this team was fun to play with, and it being their last time on the court together. “It sucks losing, but it sucks losing knowing it’s your last time playing with this group. This group has been unbelievable. There’s no team that’s been like this on/off the court. We’re all super close. Being able to play at Kentucky and have a special group of guys around me.”

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Sheppard continued on how “special” this Kentucky team was. “You guys could tell how special we were. How close of friends we were on and off the court. It sucks ending the season no matter what. Especially with this group. We’re all really close. We’re all best friends. Knowing that we won’t play with the same group of guys next year is tough. But you know, we have a lot of memories.”

Rob Dillingham also expressed that same comradery feeling. “It means everything to me. I might not show it all the time, but I love everybody on the team. I love putting this (Kentucky) jersey on. Every time I go out there I get chills looking at the crowd. It’s just crazy to think we’re done right now.”

Just like that, Kentucky’s season has come to a shocking halt. A special team ended with a very disappointing March. Now, big questions will need to be answered .

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Men's Basketball

Rick Pitino Endorses Mark Pope, “He Will Lead The Kentucky Wildcats To Another Championship”

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Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports/ Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The captain of Rick Pitino’s 1996 “Untouchables”, Mark Pope, is “coming home” to lead the Kentucky Wildcats as the program’s next head coach, officially announced on Friday. While there has been some criticism of the hire, Pitino says he “couldn’t be any prouder to see Mark Pope lead the Kentucky Wildcats.”

While Pope has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in two appearances, Pitino points out that several top coaches had their trials early in their careers. It took Jay Wright 11 seasons to win his first NCAA Tournament, and Billy Donovan was hired at Florida without an NCAA Tournament appearance. However, he heralds Pope as one of the “premier young coaches” in college basketball.

“Offensively, no one does it better,” Pitino said. “The way his teams move. The way his teams shoot the three. The ball movement. It’s outstanding.”

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It’s just the X’s and O’s though, Pitino “guarantees” that Pope loves and understands the program as well as anyone. “I can guarantee to you one thing, that nobody epitomizes the name on the front of the jersey more than Mark Pope.”

“Mark Pope will go on to greatness. You can put it down,” Pitino said. “He will do you proud. “He will lead the Kentucky Wildcats to another championship”

If his endorsement isn’t enough, Rick Pitino says he will “write the check himself” for NIL to help Pope be successful.

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Men's Basketball

Mark Pope Releases Statement As He Is Announced As Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Per UK Athletics

When his alma mater came calling, Mark Pope knew there was no place like home.

Pope, a captain of the University of Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship team, has returned to Lexington as the 23rd head coach of Kentucky’s storied men’s basketball program, announced Friday.

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“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball,” Pope said. “It’s the definition of a blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation every 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.”

“I’m thankful to Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach and I can’t wait to do this together!”

Pope is a nine-year head coaching veteran with stops at BYU and Utah Valley, amassing a 187-108 career record. His squads won 20 or more games in six of the last seven seasons and he has made six postseason appearances.

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Men's Basketball

REPORT: Mark Pope Set Sign Five-Year Deal to Become Next Kentucky Basketball Coach

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Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky has found their guy. Former Wildcat and NCAA Champion, Mark Pope, is now expected to be named the next Kentucky basketball coach on a five-year contract worth $5.5 million annually, first reported by CBS Sports. For perspective, based on last season’s salaries, that is more than Dan Hurley (UConn), Scott Drew (Baylor), and Nate Oats (Alabama).

Pope comes to Kentucky with nine seasons of head coaching experience, after serving as an assistant for six seasons, from 2009-2015. In 2015, he was hired by Utah Valley where he coached for four seasons. In 2019, Pope was hired at BYU where he has taken them to two NCAA Tournaments, but has been upset by a double-digit seed in both appearances.

Pope has proven himself as a good X-and-O coach in his nine-year career, running one of the most innovative offenses in the country, but recruiting will be a real test as he has never signed a four-star recruit. Who he hires on to his staff and collecting NIL support will be critical.

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The move has been met with much fan criticism, as fans have been quick to point out that Pope has never won a conference title or an NCAA Tournament game. However, Mitch Barnhart is confident in the move, with some reporting that he is “excited” with the hire.

Just three days into the coaching search, this is an interesting hire with several big names like Billy Donovan and Bruce Pearl potentially available. Barnhart made the decision not to wait for Donovan, who is currently coaching the Chicago Bulls, and Pearl was not considered due to his “baggage”.

A new era of Kentucky basketball has begun.

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