Sources: Kentucky targeting BYU's Pope as coach

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After being turned down by multiple top-tier candidates, Kentucky is targeting one of its own, BYU’s Mark Pope, as the school’s next men’s basketball coach, sources told ESPN.

A deal is expected to come together in the near future, sources said.

Pope, a 1996 Kentucky graduate who played two seasons and won a national title there, has taken BYU to two NCAA tournaments in his five years there, including a 23-11 record with smooth transition to the Big 12 this year. He has gone 110-52 in five seasons at BYU and was the head coach at Utah Valley before that, going 77-56 in four seasons.

Pope would replace John Calipari, a Hall of Fame coach who left for Arkansas after posting a 410-123 record with the Wildcats. That included a national title and four Final Four appearances.

Pope is well regarded in coaching circles, as he has a 187-108 career record in nine years as a head coach. He also completed two years of medical school at Columbia University before pivoting to become Georgia’s director of basketball operations in 2009.

Kentucky turned to Pope after several high-profile candidates either turned the job down or declared they didn’t have interest. Late Thursday morning, Baylor’s Scott Drew declined interest in the job after the school flew multiple family members to Lexington on a private plane to check out the area.

“We truly believe God has called my family and I to continue our work here at Baylor,” Drew said in a statement.

That decision by Drew came in the wake of three high-profile candidates turning down interest in the job before it even opened, as Alabama’s Nate Oats, UConn’s Dan Hurley and Villanova’s Jay Wright all said publicly they didn’t have interest in the job. Billy Donovan also said he’s committed to coaching the Chicago Bulls.

Pope would come to Kentucky with a resume that’s light for a job generally considered the best in the sport. He does not have an NCAA tournament win, and No. 11 BYU lost to No. 6 Duquesne 71-67 in the first round of the tournament this year. In the 2021 tournament, No. 6 BYU lost to No. 11 UCLA in the first round.

By comparison, Calipari had reached 11 combined NCAA tournaments at UMass and Memphis and coached in two Final Fours before taking the Kentucky job. Tubby Smith coached in three Round of 16s — two at Tulsa and another at Georgia — before arriving at Kentucky. Rick Pitino took Providence to the Final Four and coached the New York Knicks before taking over. Even Billy Gillispie coached in three NCAA tournaments and reached a Round of 16 before being hired by the Wildcats.

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