Padgett says Pope is a terrific analytics coach

Published 5:14 pm Thursday, April 25, 2024

Once former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino endorsed the hiring of former UK player Mark Pope as the new Kentucky basketball coach, another former UK player expected fans to buy in like they did at Pope’s introductory press conference.

“It was probably a little more (attendance wise) than I thought it might be but I knew it would be a big turnout,” said Scott Padgett, Pope’s former teammate at UK and now an assistant coach at Mississippi State. “I am glad the fans did that for Pope. I know some fans only knew what they had heard about Pope on social media but everything fans saw up there at the press conference, that is who he is.

“You will not find anybody who has met Pope who does not love him. He is high energy, passionate, funny. He is so intelligent. All you see and think about him is true.”

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However, Padgett, a former head coach at Samford, hopes Kentucky fans also understand that Pope is a highly respected coach because of what he’s done the last nine years at Utah Valley and BYU.

“He has a great reputation in the business. A lot of coaches really think highly of Mark,” Padgett said. “He has infectious energy and positivity. He’s obviously very, very intelligent and that will help with recruiting. But he is a great X and O guy. He is just a big-time guy and coach.

“He is ahead of the game in how he uses analytics. He even has an algorithm of how you go out and recruit. I don’t know how many Rhodes Scholars candidates are out there now coaching but I suspect Mark is one of very few or maybe the only one.”

Pope has not coached in the SEC like Padgett but the Mississippi State assistant coach does not think it will take Pope long to adjust to the styles of play in the SEC or what each head coach does best.

“I expect him to attack it head on and not just walk into it. He will run into it and embrace the competition,” Padgett said. “He is a very smart and intelligent person. It will not take him too long to get the lay of the land and who he will be battling against not only on the court but in recruiting.”

Recruiting at Kentucky will be vastly different from recruiting at Utah Valley or BYU but not something Padgett thinks will be an impossible task for Pope.

“BYU is a great place but there are some built in recruiting shackles that are not built in at Kentucky,” Padgett said. “He will have the same energy and effort in relationship building but every kid he wants a chance to recruit he will have that opportunity.

“This job will enhance him. When he was at Utah Valley he did a great job but it is a hard job there to get it going to where you can move up to BYU. Then BYU jumped from a lower league to the Big 12 and he went 10-8 and beat Iowa State, Kansas and Baylor in BYU’s first year as a Big 12 school. That was very impressive.

“I think a place like Kentucky that has money, support and the greatest fans is only going to enhance him. NIL is as important as anything in recruiting. Trust me, some battles you are not going to win when you don’t have enough NIL money. I am not saying old school recruiting is not important but NIL is probably even more important today.”

Padgett also said Pope’s familiarity with the UK program is extremely important.

“Deep down in his soul place this is the place he wants to be. He has been here and part of it and knows the heartbeat of the fan base. He’s been there and done that. He’s listened and knows what fans cheer for and what they boo for and knows what he needs to give them.

“I don’t know anybody who could come in with a better understanding of the job and be more ready for it. He had a great mentor (Pitino) who has been through the job. He lived it as a player. Nobody is more prepared than him because he’s had success in good jobs that were also tough jobs. I think he will do great.”


Analyst projects Sheppard to go north in NBA Draft

YahooSports NBA draft analyst Krysten Peek has Kentucky guard Reed Sheppard going No. 6 in the NBA draft to Toronto and teammate Rob Dillingham going No. 7 to Memphis.

Many Kentucky fans were hoping Sheppard might return for a sophomore season but Peek knew better.

“Anybody who thought he would come back because of NIL money needs to realize his dream has always been the NBA,” she said. “Maybe a singular NIL deal could be for a couple of million dollars but he’s jeopardizing more money in the NBA and adding another year before he can get a second contract if he stays in school. It was just being delusional to think he would be back or even transfer to Arkansas (to play for John Calipari).”

Peek was one of the few college basketball writers who predicted before UK even played exhibition games in Canada in July that Sheppard would be a valuable contributor for Kentucky last season. He became the national freshman of the year

“This is a draft with a dip in talent. Whether it is Reed, Rob, Justin (Edwards) or whoever stays in the draft they are going to be drafted on their upside and not coming in and playing right away,” she said.

If Sheppard goes in the top 10 as expected, he would be a higher draft pick than former UK players Tyrese Maxey, Jamal Murray, Devin Booker and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — all current NBA stars.

“It is the coach Cal effect. NBA teams know his track record and know five-star guards do not always translate well in the Calipari system but are better pros,” Peek said. “They can also see how productive Reed and Rob were in one year. It’s easier to take a gamble and stay in the good grace of the fan base and owners if you take a one-and-done Kentucky guard. Look at what the rest of them have done in the NBA. They might not have won a championship at Kentucky but they have been great in the NBA.”

Peek knows the exact draft order is still in flux. Some players helped themselves in the NCAA Tournament and one team might just take a fancy to a particular player.

“This could be a draft where you kind of choose your own adventure,” Peek said. “There could be a team or GM laser focused on one player that could shake the draft order up. I think picks four to 11 you could mix and match a lot of players and it would not surprise me to see Reed or Rob go up or down a little from where I have them now.”

Mills not surprised by Pope presser attendance

It was no surprise that so many of Mark Pope’s former teammates showed up at his introductory press conference that turned into a pep rally with 20,000 fans at Rupp Arena. However, a lot of other former Wildcats also were there to support the former Wildcat.

Pope’s former UK teammate, Cameron Mills, said that was “not a thing against Cal” but more a sign of support for Pope.

“When you play for a coach there is a bond created or when you play with a guy there is an even stronger bond,” Mills said. “This is the first time a former Kentucky player has been offered the job, much less taken the job (actually former UK coach Joe Hall always played for the Cats).

“We will definitely be welcomed back by Pope but we were never pushed away by (John) Calipari. He just had a closer bond, as he should have, with his players just like Tubby (Smith) and (Rick) Pitino did. I do not think Calipari put us to the side as former players. He was just closer with his players.

“Pope reached out to all the former players because he is a former player. Mark understands having former players around means something special to the players to where they do not feel disconnected from the program. Think about the stories Jeff Sheppard could tell Pope’s players.”

Vandagriff continues to impress

Quarterback Brock Vandagriff has impressed Kentucky teammates and coaches since transferring from Georgia. However, that’s no surprise to long-time Georgia fan Mary Alice Gilbert who watched him play in high school in Georgia.

“He is a phenomenal guy,” she said. “I saw him play for several years in high school and he has quite an arm. He is also very smart and knows how to get out of the pocket if needed.

“He’s a very classy, Christian young man. He lives his faith and I just think he is a really good player. In high school he was so much fun to watch. He could throw the ball so well. He won all but one game his junior year and then won them all his senior year.”

She felt he should have been the starting quarterback at Georgia last year and thought he might to go Auburn or Oklahoma before landing at Kentucky where he’s expected to be the starter next season.

“I would like to see him beat Georgia and he is only one I would like to see ever do that because I am a Georgia fan,” she said. “I know they have a really good quarterback at Kentucky now and I think he will be great.

“He gets along with all his teammates. He is very likable and sociable. He’s just a great guy and fans will love him. Very friendly, very gracious, very honest. I know that’s the way he is because he’s always been that way. I hate that he is not at Georgia but I know he’s going to do great at Kentucky.”

Pope glad he made FTs in title tilt

Kentucky coach Mark Pope remembers beating Syracuse in the 1996 national championship game and how he worried he might blow the game for coach Rick Pitino’s team if he missed free throws late in the game.

“There was, give or take, a minute left. The only meaningful play I made in my entire career,” Pope joked. “They were pushing the ball down the floor and I trip and fall and it is deflected and they give me a foul. That is how good I was.

“So it happened right down there in the Meadowlands and I started to walk from there to the free-throw line, I don’t know, 50 seconds left, maybe up three (points), maybe up five, and there was only one thought.

“This is honestly the truth. I was not thinking about form or team or celebration or score, I literally was walking, and I promise this is true, the only thought that came into my mind is, if I don’t make this they are going to kill me. And who wants that?

“That is why we are here, guys. That is what we do.”

Hamdan had to mesh with staff, players

New Kentucky offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan inherited a roster when he came to UK from Boise State and had to learn the strengths and weaknesses of his players during spring practice. However, the coach has also had to learn to work with a new coaching staff.

“A lot of times there is a good amount of luck with the staff meshing,” Hamdan said. “This is not my first time going through this experience and getting new coaches and guys to rely on that I didn’t know before.”

Hamdan likes the UK football culture and assistant coaches that Mark Stoops had in place when he arrived.

“I get the opportunity to work with a line coach (Eric Wolford) who I believe is one of the best in the nation,” Hamdan said. “Then you have Vince (Marrow) with the tight ends who has had so many opportunities to leave for another job. Jay (Boulware) does an outstanding job with the running backs and (receivers coach) Daikiel (Shorts) is one of the fastest rising coaches in the nation.

“I count my blessings here. I have been in situations that were not like that at all but these guys all were quick to buy in and the loyalty is where it needs to be because of the culture here.”