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More from Mark Pope's Rupp Arena celebration because I can't stop thinking about it

Drew Franklinby:Drew Franklin04/15/24


There is a lot I could be doing right now. For instance, the Internal Revenue Service expects me to file taxes at some point today, so a trip to the post office is undoubtedly on my Monday afternoon to-do list. We have several active discussions on KSBoard that I am trying to participate in and many directions to go with new blog posts as Mark Pope builds his first coaching staff and roster in Lexington.

At the same time, more of last year’s Wildcats seek other opportunities as they scatter to the transfer portal. Also, spring football is on campus, and Kentucky Baseball travels to Louisville tomorrow night. These are all things I could focus on right now at KSR HQ. But, mentally, it is still Sunday afternoon in Rupp Arena, and the Mark Pope celebration hasn’t stopped. Since I cannot move on from one of my favorite Kentucky Basketball experiences ever, here are more notes from the press conference that shocked college basketball. We’ll call them leftovers that got lost beneath things like understanding the assignment and Big Blue Nation filling downtown Lexington. More takeaways:

How many people does that bus hold?!

Mark Pope’s entrance was one of the highlights of his Sunday celebration. You saw it. The team bus drove into the arena and unloaded SEVERAL Kentucky Wildcats from the past, at least one from all seven coaches going back to Adolph Rupp, and nearly everyone who was a part of Pope’s ’96 national championship team. In the end, Pope walked off the bus with the ’96 trophy, just as he did as the team captain when Kentucky won it.

My question is, how many people were crammed into that bus? I’ve now asked three former players if they had to sit on another Wildcat’s lap, but they insisted that no former player doubled up in seats, even though Rex Chapman sitting on Jack Givens’ lap is a funny thought. However, the youngest guys on the bus, the current team managers, were asked to stand in the aisles so everyone would fit.

Also, the Chicago Bulls’ old intro music was a nice callback to the past. Pope’s Wildcats used it, too.

We need to bring back “Tell me who’s in the house tonight… U-K!”

Pope’s Untouchables loved the “Tell me who’s in the house tonight… U-K!” chant. Yesterday, he brought it to the stage in Rupp Arena, even revealing that it was his youngest daughter’s initial reaction when she learned Kentucky had offered the job.

“Layla Pope walks in the door,” Pope said. “And I kid you not, her first words were, she knows the deal, “Tell me who is in the house tonight… UK.” She did exactly that, exactly that. True story.”

Tom Leach’s Final Four tie deserves recognition

Overshadowed by the afternoon’s events was Tom Leach’s necktie featuring the 1996 Final Four Meadowlands logo. On his morning radio show, Leach shared that the tie was a gift from Oscar Combs when they covered the 1996 Kentucky team through its national championship. Nearly thirty years later, I saw a piece of art, not a tie, that Tom brought out for Pope’s homecoming.

Pope recognizing Oscar Combs in his press conference was a nice touch as well. Oscar hasn’t been in Rupp Arena in several years, but he told Tom he plans to make it back “somehow” to see the Pope era for himself.

We’re (maybe) going to Maui!!!!

Kentucky was a one-and-done in the Maui Classic under John Calipari. Calipari took the Wildcats to Hawaii once in 2010, where Kentucky beat Washington and Oklahoma but lost to UConn by 17 points. Calipari vowed never to go back and didn’t.

Mark Pope has a different approach. “Let’s say sometime in the future we can find our way into this Maui tournament,” he teased. “Would anybody come?” The crowd erupted.

Kentucky also played in the Maui Classic in 1993, 1997, 2002, and 2006. Who remembers Jeff Brassow?

Fan of the Day: The Pope

This guy won the Best Dressed award.

His prize? Mark Pope took a photo with him after the press conference. Mark would’ve met all of the fans if time had allowed.

UK Athletics did a great job throwing everything together

The Big Blue Nation did its part to pack the place, but let’s also note the excellent job done by all parties involved in throwing the event together on short notice and then adjusting on the fly to fill Rupp Arena to capacity.

From the Welcome Home Mark Pope posters to the bus entrance to the subtle spotlight on Pope’s 1996 banner and all of the other callbacks, the event team crushed it. Mixed with the fan reaction, Sunday was a memorable day for The Greatest Tradition In College Basketball.

We saw what it would be like if Rupp Arena had a general admission game for the fans

Thirty minutes before the press conference began, Rupp Arena was rocking like the Wildcats were about to play a rivalry game on the floor. The atmosphere was electric and filled with many fans who had never seen the inside of Rupp Arena. Sitting in the middle of it on Sunday, I wondered what an actual game would be like in front of the same audience. With all due respect to the regular ticket holders, yesterday’s crowd was a different breed of excitement and enthusiasm. I wish UK could find a way to play one game for those fans on a first-come, first-serve ticket policy. Have a campout game and see what Rupp Arena can really do. If it’s anything like the crowd for Pope, Kentucky couldn’t lose.

More Sight and Sounds from Rupp Arena

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