Mark Pope prioritizing adding two more pieces to the 2024-25 roster

Zack Geogheganby:Zack Geoghegan05/13/24

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Mark Pope has been living on the recruiting trail over the last several weeks. With 10 pieces locked in for his debut roster in 2024-25, he can afford to be a bit more deliberate with the final few scholarships.

Men’s basketball teams are allowed 13 scholarships by the NCAA, so Pope has three spots left to fill. A handful of targets have been mentioned plenty in recent weeks, most notably North Florida’s Chaz Lanier, Miami’s Wooga Poplar, and BYU’s Jaxson Robinson. Kentucky is hosting Fairleigh Dickinson’s Ansley Almonor this week and has also been confirmed to have shown recent interest in UCLA’s Berke Buyuktuncel. There’s even a chance Pope and his staff take a look at BYU’s Noah Waterman, who entered his name into the portal on Monday.

More names are surely out there, too. There’s always the possibility that a class of 2025 high schooler jumps into the 2024 class and joins the Wildcats this summer. Essentially, Pope is going to have options when it comes to filling out those three missing scholarships.

That being said, it certainly sounds like he has two specific prospects on his mind. The third and final scholarship will be one he hopes to have some fun with.

“We’re at 10 scholarships right now. I have two really, really important pieces I have to add and then I have a 13th scholarship to kinda be a floating piece,” Pope said on the College Hoops Today with Jon Rothstein podcast. “The way we envision it is, it could be a place for a young player, it could be a place for a more senior player that is gonna take a redshirt year, it could be a place for a project, or it could be a place for maybe a high-risk guy. That’s kinda how we’re seeing it but we’re really dialed in on filling these last two spots as a priority right now.

We can assume that one (or possibly both) of those priority spots belongs to one of Lanier, Poplar, or Robinson. The first two did not receive invites to the NBA Combine, which began on Monday, while Robinson did. Lanier and Poplar could be on the verge of going into decision mode now that it appears unlikely they’ll sneak into the 2024 NBA Draft. Robinson’s decision could still be a week or more out. The deadline to withdraw from the draft while maintaining college eligibility is May 29.

Kentucky is believed to be in good shape with all three (Lanier and Robinson, especially). Pope isn’t just going to go after the best available player though — he’s being strategic with these final roster spots, putting an emphasis on fit. Pope has even taken a “pause” over the last week to figure out how the roster (and his staff, in fact) works together as currently constructed.

“It’s not plug-and-play, it’s actually kinda feeling how guys fit together and how they’re going to build on each other’s skillset and mentality and personality,” Pope said. “I think that’s what makes great teams.”

After a week of slow roster movement, more additions could be on the way in the very near future.

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2024-05-21