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Mark Pope, John Calipari, and Tubby Smith hung out at the Final Four?!

On3 imageby:Tyler Thompson04/22/24


In what must have been a twist of fate, three of the eight head coaches in modern Kentucky Basketball history hung out the day before the program’s landscape as we knew it imploded. During an appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show, Mark Pope said he ran into John Calipari and Tubby Smith at a lounge in a hotel in Phoenix the Saturday morning of Final Four weekend. Of course, the next day, Sunday, the news broke that Calipari was leaving Kentucky, setting into motion the series of events that would lead to Pope being hired as his successor.

Pope claims there is photographic evidence of this chance encounter, which BBN is going to need to see to believe. (Until then, we have Drew Franklin’s best guess in Photoshop form.) He also said he didn’t believe that Calipari knew at the time he was going to Arkansas, a timeline I’ll dissect more a little later.

“On Saturday morning at the Final Four, I walked into the lounge at the hotel, and Cal and Tubby were sitting there talking and both of those coaches have been incredibly gracious to me throughout my career,” Pope said. “I have so much love in my heart for both of them. And so it was also fun to corner two of the great coaches to coach at the University of Kentucky, my alma mater.

“So I literally walked up to them sat down and fanboyed a picture. So we have a picture of three of us and I actually had a chance to talk to both of them and just share my gratitude for their stewardship at the University of Kentucky and my appreciation that this was a job that very few people in the world understood how challenging it was and I just told them how much I love them.

“And so 24 hours later — and I think honestly the three of us were sitting there and not one of us, I’m guessing, had any concept of the possibility of what would ensue over the next 24 hours and 96 hours.”

Do we believe that? According to The Athletic’s timeline of events, Calipari met with Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek and booster John H. Tyson on Friday night of the Final Four to discuss Arkansas’ coaching search. Calipari initially agreed to meet with them to share his opinion on potential candidates and, by the end, Arkansas sources claim Yurachek offered the job to Cal, who said he’d think about it. By Saturday morning, a formal term sheet declaring Arkansas’ interest was sent to Calipari, who took the day to mull it over before ultimately deciding to accept, ending his 15-year tenure in Lexington.

The fact that Calipari could have been thinking it over while chatting with Smith, who also decided to leave Kentucky in 2007, and Pope, who ended up replacing him, is absolutely wild. Regardless, Pope said it’s a moment he’ll never forget and one that is symbolic of the program’s unique tradition.

“That moment will be really special to me because of the tradition at Kentucky, it’s tying the generations together, generation to generation. I think it’s one of the things that sets us apart. Certainly, every single coach from Cal to Tubby to Coach [Pitino] to Joe B. [Hall] and then every single player from all those generations and before is really the strength of this program.”

Yeah, we’re going to need to see that picture, Mark.

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