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4-Point Play: Takeaways from a wild weekend for Kentucky basketball in Lexington

Jack PIlgrimby:Jack Pilgrim06/18/24

If my head is spinning after a single day in Lexington on Saturday, I can’t imagine how Mark Pope, his staff and the players are feeling going into the week — certainly with practice starting Monday. Kentucky‘s Father/Son Camp got rolling on Friday before wrapping up on Saturday at the Joe Craft Center. From there, the Wildcats made their way to Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park for Club Blue‘s NEW ERA event, the first meet-and-greet with the team exclusive to subscribers. Then they all woke up Sunday and returned to the Craft Center for the Father/Daughter Camp, that starting in the morning and ending in the late afternoon on Father’s Day.

Needless to say, it was a lot.

KSR got a brief look at the chaos on Saturday, starting at about 9 AM and heading out around 4:30 PM. It was our first opportunity to see the players and coaches in action since Pope’s arrival, plenty of takeaways to be had now that the dust has settled. That’s the direction we’ll be taking this evening on 4-Point Play.

Mark Pope is too nice for his own good

Let’s start with the Father/Son Camp, where Pope juggled the start of the direct contact period with rising juniors at midnight on June 15, staying up till 3 AM talking to kids on the West Coast before showing up bright and early at the Joe Craft Center for part two of camp. There, he was hands-on with attendees while making pitstops in the office for quick calls with recruits, followed by a quick speech to close out the event while helping lead a C-A-T-S chant.

From there, he made his way to the Club Blue event at the Kentucky Horse Park where he spent four-plus hours introducing the team to donors, participating in a Q&A session and taking approximately 37 million pictures with fans. Event planners struggled getting him from one spot to the next and sticking to the itinerary because Pope just would not stop taking pictures and signing autographs.

He was a few minutes late here and there throughout the day, but there was always selflessness behind the tardiness. He wore his gratitude on his sleeve, thanking every person in attendance and making sure they knew this team would not be possible without their support. Even when the event ended, Pope stuck around for another half-hour to mingle and share stories, swarmed by fans waiting for their chance to meet the new Kentucky head coach.

Whatever it took to make their day, he obliged.

The crazy part? He followed that up with his Father/Daughter Camp on Father’s Day, another all-day event where he soaked in every minute with his own family by his side.

It was a non-stop weekend wearing a ridiculous number of hats for Mark Pope, his kindness adding even more to his plate by maximizing fan interactions at every turn.

Lamont Butler and Andrew Carr will be team leaders

Picking a team leader may not be so easy on a group with seven super seniors, but two early favorites have emerged based on nothing more than the eye test. As players, you have one in Butler with national title experience, someone who hit one of the biggest shots in college basketball history. You also have one in Carr who fits Pope’s system better than just about anyone — he once said the 6-10 transfer was “born to play for me,” both with four years of experience.

Talking with both and seeing how they interact with teammates, coaches and fans, it’s hard to ignore their professionalism and leadership as savvy veterans. They say and do the right things while clearly understanding the opportunity in front of them in their final season of eligibility.

The incoming fifth-year seniors may have coaching in their futures, too — just make sure you don’t give up offensive rebounds or turn the ball over on their watch.

It’s a deep group with plenty of leadership, but the personalities of Butler and Carr have stood out early from the bunch. You could already trust what they brought to the table as players, but after seeing them up close and personally over the weekend, they’re a safe bet.

Nick Robinson is Pope’s most underrated staff signing

Pope’s staff is full with Alvin Brooks III, Cody Fueger, Jason Hart, Mark Fox and Mikhail McLean making up the five-man assistant pool. It’s a strong group with experience, recruiting success, Xs and Os and youth — about as well-rounded as you’ll find.

An addition that flew under the radar and may be Kentucky’s most underrated of the offseason, though? Nick Robinson, who was hired as Kentucky’s director of operations on June 3. He came from BYU as an assistant under Pope from 2019-2024, someone the head coach describes as “incredibly intelligent” with “boundless energy and intensity” while being “meticulously organized and extremely passionate about building a high-level program.”

As far as first impressions go, Robinson couldn’t have checked those boxes any better in my initial interactions with him.

My goodness, the dude did not stop moving from the minute I walked in the door at the Joe Craft Center early Saturday morning to when I left Alltech Arena later that afternoon. Bouncing back and forth from gym to gym, room to room and drill to drill, Robinson kept things moving efficiently at the Father/Son Camp while interacting with fans throughout the Club Blue event. I stopped him briefly amid the chaos and asked if he was going to hit a wall anytime soon. His response?

“We’re having fun, man!”

The job is more than youth camps and fan interactions, obviously, but Robinson came in with a strong reputation as is. If he’s taking ‘inconsequential’ non-basketball events as seriously as he is now, what does that mean for the real stuff to come? I’m betting on the 44-year-old out of Missouri, one with two decades of coaching experience, including four as a D1 head coach.

A Big Blue Madness campout comeback?

Big Blue Madness campout is one of the best traditions Kentucky basketball has to offer. It was taken away, though, from 2020-21 due to COVID-19 precautions, then brought back in 2022 in modified fashion — a one-night event with space restrictions — before leaving again in 2023 due to Memorial Coliseum renovations.

Point being, it hasn’t been the fan-favorite event as we previously knew it since 2019. Will that change under Pope? Those discussions are ongoing, but he’d like to see it return, if possible.

“The Big Blue Madness campout happening again? I would love to bring that back, we just have to cross over some safety hurdles and other things,” Pope told the crowd at the Club Blue event Saturday. “But I’ve got to tell you, I lived through that and it was magic. It’s like nothing else.”

Make it happen, UK Athletics. It’s only right.

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