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Mark Pope’s Words From Introductory Press Conference

Kentucky introduced it’s next head coach on Sunday with a public press conference inside of Rupp Arena. The program only opened up seven sections which would seat less than a thousand fans if I had to guess and quickly they received word that they were going to need to adjust because fans were traveling from all over to attend.

Fans started showing up around 8:30 am with the downtown streets flooded by noon. The press conference didn’t officially start until 4:30, but the arena was at max capacity by four o’clock and a few thousands fans had to be turned away at the doors is what I was told by the arena staff.

It was a sight to behold and a day I’ll remember forever. You can watch the press conference on our YouTube channel, and/or read the quotes below. The transcript of Mark Pope’s words were provided by UK in a quick manner, so some quotes might have been mis-recorded so if you see any errors bare with us. We wanted to get this out as quickly as possible.


“Hey, Mitch, Mitch, Mitch, hold on. So, guys, we see these introductory press conferences all the time. Nobody in the world has ever seen anything like this. But I'm about to break tradition. I'm about to break tradition. At every one of these press conferences the coach comes up and stands there with the AD and takes a picture with a jersey that they made that ends up in a closet somewhere. We're not doing that.

Hey, this jersey comes from a hallowed place in my home because it is a jersey I got to wear with my teammates and all of Kentucky nations in the national championship games in the Meadowlands of New York. And that's not just a jersey that will go in the closet. It is a jersey that has blood, sweat, and tears and love and it is all of us together.

I will keep this as short as I can. I talk a lot. But there is one other way I want to blow up this press conference, and I will get crushed for doing this, every coach in America at every other job in America stands up at the press conference and they try and moderate expectations. We don't do that here at Kentucky. When Mitch called me and talked to me about being the head coach here at Kentucky, I understand the assignment. We are here to win banners. And as we go through this journey, we're here to win banners in Nashville, because you guys turn out in Nashville like nobody else and that matters. And we are here, our job here, our assignment is to go win banners in the Final Four, win national championships. That's our job. With those high expectations there will come criticism. But I don't want you guys to worry, because I will group chat with every one of my single '96 championship teammates and they will destroy me every time something goes wrong."

You can watch the 1996 team in reference come off the bus they rode in on today to debut the new head coach while hoisting the national championship trophy. It will give you cold chills and a major throwback.

"I want to do a couple of thank you, please. Thank you, President Capilouto, for his leadership. I'm grateful for Mitch Barnhart, as I've watched the last 22 years as he has run this program and how he is as a man. We're grateful to have him here. He is incredible. I'm grateful to Mark Hill and Ray Oliver for all of the work they have done in this process over the last 72 hours. Grateful to these players. I'm grateful for the players from '96 and through the generations at Kentucky who have made this place what it is. I'm grateful to every single one of you. More than anything else, what separates us from everybody else, we have great coaches, players, administrators, but what makes us different from everybody else is you all. I'm so grateful for you.

Guys, I cannot wait any longer for this. Please join me in a little C-A-T-S C-A-T-S. 1, 2, 3, C-A-T-S, please. Stand up and let's go. I need your help here. Can we do this, please? 1,2,3. C-A-T-S,Cats, Cats, Cats! Ohhhhhh, C-A-T-S, Cats, Cats, Cats! Ohhhhhhh, C-A-T-S, Cats, Cats, Cats! Thank you.

Let's go. Let's go. Like Mitch said, I love this place from the depths of my soul. It changed my entire life. If you will indulge me briefly, I would like to introduce my family to your family. And I would like to show you how much we love this place. My daughter, Layla, stand up, please, just wave. This is 100 percent a true story. When Mitch offered us a job he gave us a couple of hours to consult our family. We didn't need it. He knew I would walk here to take this job. But as we gathered the girls from all of the various places, Layla Pope walks in the door, and I kid you not, her first words were, she knows the deal, "Tell me who is in the house tonight, UK." She did exactly that, exactly that.

True story. That evening, Avery stand up, and Shay stand up and say hi. I don't know how they did it or where it came from, but they went down in the basement in storage and both came up with '96 untouchable vintage T-shirts. I have no idea.

Ella is my oldest daughter, and she knows me the best and my history the best. And her only question was: "Dad, when are we going?" Of course it was. Will you stand up?

And then Lee Ann, will you stand up and say hi. So if you will stay with me for a second, if you are a mother, and you can imagine all of the pressure and stress that comes with life as a mom and all of the things that she has to consider every single day. And we sat around the table and got everybody's reaction and with all of the burden, with all of the grace and courage and elegance you can imagine, Lee Ann looked across the table and said, "Let's go."

You don't need to know this, but I will say it anyway because I can, I'm madly in love with this woman. She makes sense of my life. I'm so grateful for her. And you will quickly find out, she will get to know every single one of you and love you like crazy. It will be really special, okay? So Pope family, stand up because this is important. I want you to turn around and, Pope family, I want to introduce you to our family.

Alright. Should we talk a little bit about coaching? I will tell you things that are deeply in our DNA as a coach and what is interesting, where we learned them. So you will hear from me every single day, 24/7 work, relentless 24/7 work. I learned that here.

I was here for maybe two weeks and I had transferred in and I couldn't believe I was at the University of Kentucky, and I was like, man, they have all All-Americans. I have to catch up. So it is 11:30 p.m. in the Wildcat Lodge and I have to get extra work in. I walk across the street, open up the door, and I hear balls bouncing. Who is in there? It was like five guys, like JP and Shep and DA and TD in a full sweat already. Those guys taught me how to work. I learned about resilience here. And here at Kentucky resilience is a requirement. It is not an exception, it is a requirement, and I learned that here. I learned here about the passion wins championships; passion wins championships. And sometimes, my '96 guys will remember this story, sometimes when you are on the court playing with all of the passion, competing with all of the passion you can, your insides end up all over the floor. I learned that from my guys. I learned about gratitude here at Kentucky. I learned so much about gratitude. Entitlement leads to sorrow and depression. And gratitude leads to joy.

And I will tell you this, you know all these players know, what all of the future players will learn really quick, okay, is that they are not doing those jerseys a favor by letting the jerseys clothe them. Our guys will know quickly, and it is hard not to know, it will be one of the great honors of their life to put that jersey on. There is only a select few players in the world that ever get to wear a Kentucky jersey, to wear a Kentucky jersey, it is one of the greatest honors guys can ever have as a basketball player.

Let me tell you a story. I played a decade in the NBA and it has been confirmed that I was the worst player to ever wear Jerry West, okay? Unanimous polling, all right? You know what we did in the locker room? I played with All-Stars. You know what we did? We didn't talk about the NBA teams we played for, championships or MVP's, we sat in the locker room and talked about our college basketball teams. That's a true story, a fact. That is what you do. Nobody is going home to the NBA team, they are coming home to here. This is a gift to be here. I believe these players, man, our job as coaches is we get to be shepherds.

Sometimes no words are the most powerful words of all. But Shep and I are roommates for a long time, so to do that for a little bit, to be a shepherd to these guys. you come to Kentucky, it rips you open and you get to rebuild yourself with your teammates and staff and we get to shepherd through that. These players are my job to coach and shepherd job to love. And for every player, for every player I wish that they could come experience something like this. There is nothing better. You cannot get it anywhere else besides Kentucky. There is nowhere else you can get this, nowhere else.

I will give you a few specifics about basketball really quick. You know that my team last year made the second most 3's in all of college basketball. But at Kentucky we don't come in second. My team last year had the fourth most assists in the country, and at Kentucky we share everything. We're going to be aggressive on offense, we will change it up and keep people on their heels on defense. And that's.... I heard a "defense wins games" out here. And that's our plan. That is what we will work for every day, and we have no choice but to be successful.

Guys, it is the greatest honor that I will ever have in my professional or this family career to be able to come back here and do this with you. The difference between Kentucky and every other program in the country is that this is not my team. It is not even our team. It is our team. I'm looking up at these banners up here. I've got championship team 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, if you remember, I can't tell you how many times I heard Kyle tell the story about halftime when coach came in and said five words, "Get the ball to Goose." We've got 1996 team. What? And we have got these legends. I think I have a couple here from 2012. How much do we love that team? What?

And I will tell you, the last thing I have for you, when I look up at the banners, when I look up at the rafters, it looks super crowded, if I know anything in the world about Mitch Barnhart, he will make more room. Let's go fill it up. Go Cats! Love you cats!”

We now enter a new era of Kentucky Basketball and I can’t help but feel like Mark crushed his first day. He clearly gets this fanbase, knows what it takes to win a championship here, and loves the name ‘Kentucky’ more than he loves ‘Mark Pope’s team’. For a basketball program that wants nothing but to reignite it’s tradition and getting back to winning games, today was a great sign for that.

I was blessed to sit in the literal best seat of the house, front and center about six feet from Mark Pope, and to see the perfomance he put on in front of the most passionate fanbase in the country was one of one. I will sleep tonight in excitement for the future of Kentucky Basketball.

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