UK’s zesty Pope

Published 8:34 am Thursday, June 20, 2024

ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla, a former head coach at Manhattan, St. John’s and New Mexico, had a chance to get to know new Kentucky coach Mark Pope when he first got into coaching.

“I am a huge fan of him as a human being and think he is a heck of a basketball coach,” Fraschilla said. “I have known Cal (John Calipari) since 1978 when we were college sophomores. Cal needed a new lease on life (at Arkansas). He did a terrific job at Kentucky but Mark is going to be a great fit. He has a terrific offensive mind. If he gets the kind of players I think he will, the program will continue rolling.

“He played for a great coach (Rick Pitino) and is following a great coach. Mark has become a good coach and may be a great coach. He has a zest for life exactly like what he did as a player. He has not changed and that’s what makes him a player’s coach. He gave kids at BYU a lot of freedom. Guys who can shoot will love him.”

Email newsletter signup

Fraschilla said he doesn’t believe Kentucky fans should expect “greatness” in Pope’s first season because he had so little time to put together a roster.

“But he’s going to be able to concentrate on future recruiting and I think you will see the program take back off again,” the ESPN analyst said. “He has some good pieces but this will be a transition year. I think Kentucky will be capable of making the (NCAA) tournament and doing damage but the best is yet to come.”

Pope has only one player on his roster — Jaxson Robinson — that he has coached before and no one on the roster who has played at Kentucky.

“That’s the new challenge in college basketball. All coaches have to deal with roster management,” Fraschilla said. “Coaches get paid to handle adversity but managing a roster in today’s college basketball is so different. Mark is not in any different position than anybody else.

“It’s very hard to mesh a team together every single year with eight to 10 new players. Cal was great but even he could not master that aspect because not every class has a John Wall or Anthony Davis. Mark will get some one and done guys but he will build his program around kids staying two or three years.”