"Always makes sense when you make it about players": Kentucky HC Mark Pope reveals what makes college sports worthwhile

Syndication: The Courier-Journal
Mark Pope has revealed what makes college sports worthwhile

New Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball coach Mark Pope talked about what makes college sports worthwhile for him on Thursday's edition of "The Paul Finebaum Show." He won a national championship as a player at the school and is now in charge of seeking UK's next NCAA crown.

"This business doesn't actually make sense," Pope said. "The sacrifices are too large unless it's about these players. It always makes sense when you make it about these players, and it doesn't make sense very quickly if it's not."

College sports, especially college football and basketball, appear to be becoming more and more like a business than part of the athletic department of a university.

The start of the NIL era in 2021 and the recent NCAA agreement allowing college athletes to be paid has only further blurred the lines between business and school. This can lead to organizations seeing their players as financial assets rather than young people who want to improve their talent.

Mark Pope does not see it like this. Being a coach of any college basketball program is a hard job. Being the coach at a top-tier program like Kentucky is much harder due to the high expectations of wanting to be in contention for a national championship each and every season.

This amount of pressure and high workload would not be worth it if Mark Pope was not doing the role for another reason. To him, that's helping develop the young players on his team to make them the best they can be.

By constantly making his role about the players and how they can develop, Pope is setting them up for future success, be it on the basketball court or off the court. This will act as a far greater motivator for Pope to want to improve the Wildcats as he is invested in the careers of the young athletes.

If college sports were not about the students or if coaches did not care about them and only saw them as commodities that could be abandoned when they struggled to deliver, there would be no college sports. The athletes make college basketball what it is today, and it gives them an experience that will help them develop into the leaders of tomorrow.

Can Mark Pope make the Kentucky Wildcats successful again?

Mark Pope has started his time in Kentucky on the back foot, having to search for new players as many left when John Calipari departed.

"We started essentially with zero players on the roster, which is terrifying at the University of Kentucky, where the only thing acceptable is winning a national championship," Pope said. "It’s hard to do that with no players. It’s hard to do with great players."

Pope knows that Kentucky has underachieved in recent years, and the arrival of a new coach who spent the last five years with BYU may not be the most appealing destination for players.

However, Pope is confident and excited that he can put a talented team together that can make a challenge in the Southeastern Conference this year.

"We’re very, very much pushing a pro style of play, and so it’s a little bit unique style of play college basketball," Pope said. "Getting to jump in the (transfer) portal and go handpick guys that fit the way we play exactly, and to do it from the very beginning has actually been really exhilarating, and we’re incredibly excited about the roster we put together so far and can’t wait to get them on the court together.”

Whether or not Pope can bring the Wildcats back to their former successful self is yet to be seen. But one thing is certain, he will be doing this for his athletes to give them the best experience possible.

Do you think Mark Pope will be successful at Kentucky?

What could Alabama basketball's 2024-25 starting lineup look like? Find out here

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