KSR Today: Football's spring practice and the dawn of a new era in Kentucky basketball

On3 imageby:Adam Stratton04/13/24


It has been 24 hours since the Kentucky basketball chose a new leader and the blue smoke has not yet cleared. The reason for this? Mitch Barnhart’s decision to hire former Wildcat player, Mark Pope, ignited a Big Blue Nation-sized fire, and it has taken all day to get control of it.

Just when fans thought there would be a lull in the search process after Scott Drew and Danny Hurley shunned the ‘Cats in favor of their current situations, the bomb dropped late Thursday night that Mark Pope would become the new head coach of Kentucky basketball.

Like most explosions, the announcement spawned widespread shock and awe. Fans, media, and well, pretty much everyone with any sense of what was going on at the program had to pick their jaws up off the floor as their brains struggled to wrap their heads around what was happening. Many fans’ kneejerk reactions toggled between disbelief and ire.

Even the most optimistic of the Wildcat faithful considered the decision rushed at best, as visions of Billy Donovan or any number of so-called tier-two candidates with at least one NCAA tournament win under their belt, roaming Cawood Cour vanquished into thin air.

However, after a night of sleep on it, a cool video or two, and a masterful radio appearance by Mitch Barnhart, the same fans who put themselves in the transfer portal on Thursday night, were designing 40-0 t-shirts Friday morning.

The excitement is real. After all, Mark Pope is one of us.

Live from Rupp Arena: Mark Pope’s Introductory Press Conference

Mark Pope will officially be announced as Kentucky’s new head coach at a combination press conference and fan event on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. on the hollowed grounds of Rupp Arena. In the same building where Pope captained the 1996 Wildcats and led them to a national title, he will enter into a much more grandiose leadership role and vie to repeat history.

Admission is free and doors will open at 3:30 p.m.

Limited parking on High Street will be available for free on a first-come, first-served basis. Additionally, limited concession options will be open (keep in mind that Rupp is a cashless entity). Fans can enter via the main entrance of Rupp Arena off of High Street. Programming will start at approximately 4:30 p.m. ET with Tom Leach serving as moderator. You can watch on UKAthletics.com or listen on KSR affiliates, including 630 WLAP. Matt Jones will also do a “postgame” call-in show from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Mitch Barnhart, hype man

My friend texted me a sentence on Friday morning that I thought I would never see: “Mitch has me fired up.”

Mitch Barnhart has been known to do many things over the years, but getting the fan base hyped has not traditionally been one of them. However, after his appearance on KSR to explain his decision to hire Mark Pope in such short order, the big blue tide turned in his favor, and Wildcat fans nearly rushed State Street with exuberance.

First and foremost, Mitch felt Pope’s passion for the program and what was on the front of the uniform, not the back. He also quickly fell in love with the modern style of play and the exciting offense he ran out in Provo, continuing with the entertainment value we saw with this past year’s group.

Maybe best of all? Barnhart gave his vote of confidence in saying Pope would be the leader of Kentucky basketball’s next national championship.

If you’re not yet convinced that Pope is the man for the job and you haven’t heard Mitch’s pitch, have a listen:

Will Pope’s hire affect Reed Sheppard’s decision?

Roster construction is now the first and foremost priority for Mark Pope. After the confetti falls and the cameras turn off at Sunday’s ceremony, Pope will need to hit the recruiting trail hard (and perhaps tap into this old team) to formulate a competitive roster for next season.

Between navigating the transfer portal and the mindset of Kentucky’s current high school commitments, Pope will also need to focus on the players currently on the roster, none of which is more important than Reed Sheppard.

On paper, Sheppard is the perfect fit to play under Coach Pope. His dad was roommates with Mark in college and the former BYU coach’s 3-point shooting heavy style would gear perfectly to Reed, who shot the best percentage from behind the arc than any player in Kentucky history his freshman year.

That being said, Sheppard is a projected top-10 pick in the NBA draft, so regardless of any lucrative NIL package, a lottery pick NBA contract will be hard to pass up. According to Reed’s father, Jeff:

“You know, Mark [Pope] has been a friend for a long time. I don’t know. Last night was a late night, and I haven’t really gotten to talk to Reed much about that. He’s trying to go through a process of gathering information to really see truly where he is. There’s obviously all kinds of talk. But with a decision like this, you can’t just listen to a little bit of talk. You really have to get concrete information. And so, we feel like we’re going through the process at the right speed.

“Will this have an impact? Or what is the timing? That’s still an unknown. It’s something that we will continue to work through. We’ll probably — as the Sheppards usually do — work through it as a family. With the door closed. And we’ll do our best to communicate when it’s the right time.”

Jeff Sheppard

Want to help with Pope’s roster construction? Now you can. Donate to Club NIL to help fund the collective that will bring the nation’s top talent to the Bluegrass. Over on KSBoard, users have started a trend to donate $41 to the cause in honor of Mark Pope’s jersey number. Join the party.

Staff contraction is underway as well

Obviously, Mark Pope needs players, but he also needs a staff. Scuttlebutt around the program is that he could bring at least one assistant coach and one administrator from BYU to Kentucky. Additionally, a couple of former Kentucky players could be in the running for an assistant spot. One would think Scott Padgett, a current assistant at Mississippi State, and John Pelphrey, current Tennessee Tech head coach would be in the discussion.

There is also talk of creating a much-needed General Manager position. In the new era of the transfer portal and NIL, teams need a dedicated resource to manage the chaos. This has been missing the last couple of years and is something Pope will likely rectify.

In short, a lot is happening behind the scenes in order to put together a special group for this year.

Oh yeah, Kentucky Football’s spring practice is today

“Timing” has been a hot word this week when it comes to the hiring of a new basketball coach, but when it comes to the timing of it all, it hasn’t worked out great for the other Kentucky coach with the same first name, Mark Stoops. This is normally the time of year when all eyes would be focused on the football team’s spring game, and yet, here are six sections into KSR Today and just now mentioning it.

Not overshadowing the spring game is something Mitch Barnhart was very conscious about when scheduling Mark Pope’s introductory blowout. He wanted to give full respect to today’s scrimmage at Kroger Field and rightfully so.

KSR Football gurus, Adam Luckett and Nick Roush will be on site today to report all the happenings, but unfortunately, Kentucky will not stream the game live. So, make your way down to Kroger field for the 1:00 p.m. kickoff for a sneak preview of the new-look Kentucky football squad.

Kentucky beats Auburn 9-1 to clinch fifth straight SEC series win

No. 8 Kentucky Baseball has officially opened conference play with five straight SEC series victories after taking down Auburn 9-1 Friday night. The road warrior Cats also improved to 8-1 on the road in conference play, which is best in the SEC. Kentucky is now 29-5 (13-1) on the season.

Eight different Wildcat batters finished with at least one hit and five different batters hit a home run. Ryan Nicholson belted two home runs for the second time in four games, and Ryan Waldschmidt and Nolan McCarthy both notched three hits a piece.

Kentucky’s 13-1 start to SEC play is the best in program history. The Bat Cats have a chance to clinch their fourth overall and third consecutive conference series sweep on Saturday in the series finale.

Former swimmers sue the University of Kentucky for ‘complicity’ in sexual violence

In significantly less exciting news, two former Kentucky swimmers are suing the school and their former coach, Lars Jorgensen, for allegedly subjecting them to sexual abuse.

According to the complaint as reported by The Athletic, the two former athletes accused Kentucky of “complicity” for enabling Jorgensen “to foster a toxic, sexually hostile environment within the swim program and to prey on, sexually harass, and commit horrific sexual assaults and violent rapes against young female coaches and collegiate athletes who were reliant on him.” The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Eastern District Court of Kentucky against UK, Jorgensen, athletics director Mitch Barnhart, and retired head swim coach Gary Conelly – Jorgensen’s predecessor.

Jorgensen denied the allegations in a phone interview with The Athletic.

“None of that is true, so I don’t really have much further comment,” he said. “I’ve always tried to lead in a positive manner and do what’s best for each individual and the team overall.”

KSR will report more on this story as it unfolds.

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