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Kentucky Players Respond to Oakland’s “Disrespectful” Comments, “Step into the Ring”

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The Kentucky Wildcats respond to Oakland's "disrespectful" comments ahead of their NCAA Tournament matchup.
Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland may only be a 14-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they are certainly confident. That has led to some comments that their opponent, the 3-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, have found to be disrespectful. Including comments like:

I think we’re very capable of beating a team like this.” – Oakland forward Trey Townsend

This was the best matchup I think we could get.” – Oakland head coach Greg Kampe

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We think we shoot better than they do.” – Oakland guard Jack Gohlke

Those comments have made their way into the Kentucky locker room and have created more storylines than the traditional 3-14 matchup.

“I heard they’re talking crap,” Ugonna Onyenso said at Wednesday’s open practice. “I’m not gonna say nothing. Just step into the ring. If you’re gonna talk, I hope you’re going to back your words up when it’s time to fight.”

Senior veteran Tre Mitchell also took offense, but rather than firing back, he will let the game do the talking.

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“I’m not going to speak too much on it now,” Mitchell said. “Let the game do the talking at the end of the day. It’s one thing to speak how you feel. But there’s another level to it when a little bit of disrespect comes into play. It’s not just me. It’s basically saying we have no inside presence whatsoever. We have some unbelievable talent. I just feel like it should have at least been acknowledged. Our game will speak.”

Rob Dillingham, who is one of Kentucky’s biggest talkers on the court, also heard about it. But he rather played it off. “We’re here to play basketball,” Dillingham said with a smirk. “If they think that’s what they want, that’s what they want. I’m just here to play basketball.”

Kentucky gets everybody’s best shot and they will get Oakland’s on Thursday. However, the Wildcats certainly sound prepared, and a little extra motivated, for that challenge.

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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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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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