Former Teammate knows Rhodes Scholar Mark Pope is Terrific Analytical Coach

By LARRY VAUGHT

Once former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino endorsed the hiring of former UK player Mark Pope as the new Kentucky basketball coach, another former UK player expected fans to buy in like they did at Pope’s introductory press conference.

“It was probably a little more (attendance wise) than I thought it might be but I knew it would be a big turnout,” said Scott Padgett, Pope’s former teammate at UK and now an assistant coach at Mississippi State. “I am glad the fans did that for Pope. I know some fans only knew what they had heard about Pope on social media but everything fans saw up there at the press conference, that is who he is.

“You will not find anybody who has met Pope who does not love him. He is high energy, passionate, funny. He is so intelligent. All you see and think about him is true.”

However, Padgett, a former head coach at Samford, hopes Kentucky fans also understand that Pope is a highly respected coach because of what he’s done the last nine years at Utah Valley and BYU.

“He has a great reputation in the business. A lot of coaches really think highly of Mark,” Padgett said. “He has infectious energy and positivity. He’s obviously very, very intelligent and that will help with recruiting. But he is a great X and O guy. He is just a big-time guy and coach.

“He is ahead of the game in how he uses analytics. He even has an algorithm of how you go out and recruit. I don’t know how many Rhodes Scholars candidates are out there now coaching but I suspect Mark is one of very few or maybe the only one.”

Pope has not coached in the SEC like Padgett but the Mississippi State assistant coach does not think it will take Pope long to adjust to the styles of play in the SEC or what each head coach does best.

“I expect him to attack it head on and not just walk into it. He will run into it and embrace the competition,” Padgett said. “He is a very smart and intelligent person. It will not take him too long to get the lay of the land and who he will be battling against not only on the court but in recruiting.”

Recruiting at Kentucky will be vastly different from recruiting at Utah Valley or BYU but not something Padgett thinks will be an impossible task for Pope.

“BYU is a great place but there are some built in recruiting shackles that are not built in at Kentucky,” Padgett said. “He will have the same energy and effort in relationship building but every kid he wants a chance to recruit he will have that opportunity.

“This job will enhance him. When he was at Utah Valley he did a great job but it is a hard job there to get it going to where you can move up to BYU. Then BYU jumped from a lower league to the Big 12 and he went 10-8 and beat Iowa State, Kansas and Baylor in BYU’s first year as a Big 12 school. That was very impressive.

“I think a place like Kentucky that has money, support and the greatest fans is only going to enhance him. NIL is as important as anything in recruiting. Trust me, some battles you are not going to win when you don’t have enough NIL money. I am not saying old school recruiting is not important but NIL is probably even more important today.”

Padgett also said Pope’s familiarity with the UK program is extremely important.

“Deep down in his soul place this is the place he wants to be. He has been here and part of it and knows the heartbeat of the fan base. He’s been there and done that. He’s listened and knows what fans cheer for and what they boo for and knows what he needs to give them.

“I don’t know anybody who could come in with a better understanding of the job and be more ready for it. He had a great mentor (Pitino) who has been through the job. He lived it as a player. Nobody is more prepared than him because he’s had success in good jobs that were also tough jobs. I think he will do great.”

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