Rick Pitino Classily Endorses His Former Player, Mark Pope, as Kentucky Coach in Video

Mar 14, 2024; New York City, NY, USA; St. John's Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino coaches.
Mar 14, 2024; New York City, NY, USA; St. John's Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino coaches. / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

From 1994-96, St. John's coach Rick Pitino had a firsthand view of new Kentucky coach Mark Pope's development as a player.

Pope played the 1995 and '96 seasons with the Wildcats, averaging 7.9 points per game for teams that made the Elite Eight and won the national title under Pitino.

Now, Pope is coming home, leaving BYU to attempt to lead Kentucky back to its former glory. On Friday morning, Pitino endorsed the Wildcats' hire of Pope in a two-minute video.

"What a special day for the University of Kentucky. The leader, the captain of The Untouchables, is coming home to lead the Wildcats," Pitino said in a video filmed from his office in New York.

"The Untouchables," Kentucky's '96 squad, went 34-2 and sent an astounding nine players—Pope included—to the NBA.

Alluding to Pope's success under him, Pitino chided Wildcats fans fixated on bigger names.

"A lot of people out there talk about (former Villanova coach) Jay Wright, (Connecticut coach) Danny Hurley, (Chicago Bulls coach) Billy Donovan," Pitino said. "They all had their trials and tribulations as well early on."

Pope made just two NCAA men's tournaments in five years with BYU.

"What you don't realize, it took Jay Wright 11 years to finally get an NCAA win. Billy Donovan, he was at Marshall for two years, didn't have an NCAA appearance. He went on to greatness," Pitino said. "Mark Pope will go on to greatness."

Patrick Andres


Patrick Andres has been a Staff Writer on the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated since 2022. Before SI, his work appeared in The Blade, Athlon Sports, Fear the Sword, and Diamond Digest. Patrick has covered everything from zero-attendance Big Ten basketball to a seven-overtime college football game. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.