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Mark Pope Prepared for "Fiery" Matchup with John Calipari at Rupp Arena

Nick Roushby:Nick Roush06/19/24


Replacing a legend is an unenviable task. Even though things soured in the final days of his 15-year tenure, John Calipari certainly fits that billing. Only Adolph Rupp lasted longer in the same seat at Kentucky. The next man to step into that role, Mark Pope, is toeing a fine line with his predecessor.

The former Kentucky player is clearly appreciative of John Calipari’s accomplishments at Kentucky. Pope is also well aware of how badly this fanbase wants to hand him a loss next season when he returns to Rupp Arena on the Arkansas sideline.

“We’re in the same league and we get to go head-to-head here at Rupp this year. And it’s going to be fiery. There will be fireworks because that’s how Cal is, that’s why he’s so good and that’s certainly how we’re going to represent the University of Kentucky,” Pope shared with Fox Sports’ John Fanta.

The BBN wants to beat the brakes off of Calipari to exorcise recent postseason demons. Pope has a different kind of relationship with Cal.

John Calipari has always been kind to Mark Pope. That’s one reason why the two met with Tubby Smith briefly at the Final Four this year before Calipari’s surprise departure. Even though one took the other’s old job, that relationship has not changed.

Pope and Calipari were spotted chatting it up this spring at a recruiting event on the AAU circuit. The new Kentucky coach isn’t too shy to share that in many of those conversations, he is picking Calipari’s brain about the demands of the job.

“I love Cal, man. I’ve spent a lot of time with him, and he’s been so generous and gracious to me my whole career. I think he’s that way to everybody. He’s one of the great ambassadors of college basketball. What he did here at the University of Kentucky is super special, man. It’s really incredible. BBN, it could not be more grateful, and every single day that goes by, that gratitude is going to be felt more and more intensely,” Pope said.

“We’ve gotten a chance to sit down a couple times on the road recruiting. We spent some time at SEC meetings together where I was asking him some really — I’m trying to get some background. ‘Coach, you did this for 15 years, longer than anybody’s done it since Joe B. (Hall). Give me some insights on some of the things you learned?’ He’s so generous, gracious, and wise, and he’s a Hall of Famer.”

It’s a fascinating dynamic. Calipari offers counsel, but probably not too much counsel. Pope will take all the advice he can get and be generous publicly, but privately he must take every word with a grain of salt. After all, it’s his job to kick that guy’s ass next year at Rupp Arena.

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