Mark Story: One big way that Mark Pope's coaching will differ from John Calipari's

Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Basketball

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The commitment to Kentucky by Fairleigh Dickinson forward Ansley Almonor as a transfer Thursday morning brought the number of scholarship players for Mark Pope’s first UK team up to 11.

A 6-foot-7, 219-pound forward, Almonor is a career 38.5% 3-point shooter. The product of Spring Valley, N.Y., a senior-to-be, should give Pope an ideal option when the new UK coach wishes to deploy a “small ball” 4 man.

As to the larger picture, in a podcast interview this week with Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, Pope expressed the desire to enter 2024-25 with 13 scholarship players — the NCAA maximum for men’s basketball — on the first Wildcats roster he will coach.

During these impatient times, it is reasonable to wonder whether a head man can keep a 13-man roster engaged and happy. Based upon his past, however, Pope would be near the top of the list among the coaches best equipped to make good use of a large roster.

Like his college coach at UK, Rick Pitino, Pope is a believer in using his bench. Consider:

— Over his prior two seasons as head man at BYU, Pope has not had one player average 30 minutes of playing time a game.


— For both of the past two years, Pope deployed a 10-man rotation. In 2022-23, BYU’s 10 rotation players averaged between 10.2 and 29 minutes of action a game. This past season, the range of average playing time for the Cougars’ top 10 players was between 10 and 27 minutes.

— Overall during his five-year stint as BYU head man, Pope had only four players who averaged 30 minutes of playing time a game or more (though one of those, guard Alex Barcello, did it three different seasons).

— For his five seasons (2019 through 2024) at Brigham Young University, Pope’s regular playing rotations were eight players (2019-20), 10 (2020-21), nine (2021-22), 10 (2022-23) and 10 (this past season).

Assuming Pope continues to utilize his team’s personnel in the same manner at Kentucky as he did at BYU, UK men’s basketball will be making a fairly stark departure from the common practices of the John Calipari era.


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