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John Calipari Highlights Changes for Next Season

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John Calipari draws up a play at Kentucky's season opener. Said he made a "tweak".
UK Athletics

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein.

Many Kentucky fans have referred to this quote over the last few days, expressing a desire for a change from John Calipari. However, Calipari will be back on the sidelines for the Kentucky Wildcats next season for his 16th season, confirmed by Mitch Barnhart on Tuesday.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be any changes.

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On Monday, John Calipari went on his season-ending radio show, giving his first comments to fans since Kentucky’s upset loss to Oakland last Thursday. It was easy to see why is a good recruiter, as he said all the right things.

For the better part of an hour, Calipari spoke with humility, answered some direction questions from Tom Leach, and accepted criticism. The main takeaway was that he understands that he has not met the Kentucky standard or his own standard, and changes need to take place.

“We’ve got to evaluate everything,” Calipari said. Here are some changes that have been outlined.

Getting Back to “Grinding”

Kentucky basketball offseason has often consisted of international trips to the Bahamas, or Canada last season, but not this year. Calipari emphasized a desire to get back to what his early Kentucky teams were characterized by, defense and physicality.

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“What about in the summers, instead of the Bahmas or Toronto, we’re grinding,” Calipari proposed. “We’ve got to get back to where we’ve been defensively and with physicality. Your defense steadies you.”

Those trips are good for team bonding and chemistry, but it’s clear that time can be used better for getting into the weight room and instilling defensive principles. Calipari did note that he does not want to take a step back on offense.

Getting Older

Calipari is the coach who made the “one-and-done” approach popular, relying heavily on elite freshmen. However, with college basketball getting older, he has expressed a willingness to get older.

“We’re relying on freshmen too much. In those kinds of games, you better have some vets,” Calipari said of his takeaway from Oakland. “For us, we need to get older.”

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It should be noted that Calipari relied on transfers in 2022 and 2023, albeit most not being the elite transfers, but more supporting pieces (i.e. CJ Fredrick) and developmental players (i.e. Jacob Toppin). That said, two transfers have been the leading scorer for Kentucky in three straight seasons, Oscar Tshiebwe and Antonio Reeves.

Calipari is looking more for a middle ground between young talent and transfers. “I like the combination of both. We just got to get the right transfers.”

Program Changes

When you are winning, you have more freedom, but when you have just one NCAA Tournament win in the last four seasons, you’re not going to have that luxury. This was not publicly said by Calipari, but more oversight will come as a result of his meeting with Barnhart on Tuesday afternoon.

Expect 1-2 staff changes and likely a support staff change. One of the staff changes should be filled with a defensive mind, and the support staff should be (suggestion) filled with someone in a general manager-type role. There will also be some operation changes such as having a more definitive practice schedule, rather than getting a text the day before/of, and some changes with the NIL model.

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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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