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Rick Pitino all in on Mark Pope's idea of home-and-home with St. John's

Zack Geogheganby:Zack Geoghegan04/15/24


Will we see Rick Pitino return to Rupp Arena this season? The former Kentucky head coach is all in on the idea.

During Sunday’s introductory press conference for Mark Pope as the new men’s basketball coach of the Wildcats, he was asked by KSR’s own Matt Jones about his thoughts on how he’ll go about filling out a schedule. The first words out of Pope’s mouth set the jam-packed Rupp Arena crowd into a frenzy.

“Anybody here down with a game versus St. John’s?” Pope asked with a smile.

Judging by the Big Blue Nation’s instant response, I’d say they all are. But more importantly, Pitino is, too. In fact, he says the offer has already been accepted.

“Wow, just saw clips from our Captain’s press conference,” Pitino wrote on social media Monday morning. “Not shocked, but pleasantly surprised. Would expect nothing less from @CoachMarkPope. Also, @StJohnsBBall accepts, this year at UK, next year at the Mecca! Looking forward to saying goodbye to @KentuckyMBB.

It’s a natural reunion for Pitino and Pope. Pitino coached Pope when the two were at Kentucky in the mid-90s, with Pope captaining the 1996 national championship squad. Now several years removed from his time as the Louisville coach and with his former player leading Kentucky, this feels like an ideal time for Pitino to step back into Rupp Arena for a showdown with the ‘Cats.

If Pitino is serious about scheduling a home-and-home with Kentucky for this coming season, he’ll bring his St. John’s squad to Lexington sometime this fall. Kentucky would then return the favor in 2025-26 with a visit to Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Let’s make it happen.

What about the Maui Invitational?

St. John’s wasn’t the only scheduling tease from Pope on Sunday. The new head coach even brought up the idea of bringing Kentucky back to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.

“Let’s say sometime in the future we can find our way into this Maui tournament,” Pope said. “Would anybody come?”

The crowd’s loud reaction spoiled the answer immediately. Kentucky has appeared in the Maui Invitational five times over the last few decades (1993 – champion, 1997, 2002, 2006, and 2010). UK holds a 10-5 record in this event but hasn’t been back since the second season of the John Calipari era nearly 15 years ago.

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