What to make of Kentucky basketball’s roster rebuild? Mark Pope has a plan.

Mark Pope isn’t done yet. Kentucky’s new basketball coach wants to use all 13 of his allotted roster scholarships. He’s currently at 11. North Florida transfer Chaz Lanier could be one missing piece. A big piece. So could former BYU star Jaxson Robinson.

For the sake of argument, let’s look at the roster to this point. What should we make of Pope’s 11? Is it an elite 11? A best-he-could-do 11? An 11 jigsaw pieces the coach must somehow make fit? A let’s hope-they-all-get-along 11?

I defer to a Kentucky basketball fan on the X platform who after a recent roster update posted the following comment: “This looks like the roster that has beaten us in the NCAA Tournament the past few years.”


It’s older than John Calipari’s UK configurations, of course. Older out of necessity. With all but one of Calipari’s 2024 commits scattering, Pope’s roster build started from scratch. That meant transfer portal. Deep dives into the transfer portal.

But here’s the thing: Pope has a plan. He always has a plan. He was a Rhodes Scholar candidate, remember. He spent three years at Columbia Medical School before deciding on a career course-correction. He didn’t get to where he is now by making it up as he goes along.

I remember talking to Pope after he had been named the head coach at Utah Valley, his first head coaching job. Truth be told, I had not heard of Utah Valley University. Yet, in our conversation, it was obvious Pope had beliefs about what he thought he could do there, about the potential of the place, and how he wanted things to go.

And he was right. He did well enough building the Utah Valley program to earn the head coaching job at BYU, where he had previously served as an assistant for Dave Rose. He did well enough at BYU to coach the Cougars to a winning record (10-8) in the school’s first season in the rough-and-tough Big 12. And Pope did well enough that UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart hired a new basketball coach who has yet to win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

New Kentucky basketball coach Mark Pope speaks during an introductory event at Rupp Arena on April 14.
New Kentucky basketball coach Mark Pope speaks during an introductory event at Rupp Arena on April 14.

So back to the roster. And Pope’s plan. He knows how he wants his team to play. He wants to play the way BYU played last season. Fast. Spread the floor. Shoot a ton of 3-pointers. You know, the so-called “modern basketball” we hear so much about it. As a current reference, it’s the basketball the Indiana Pacers have played to reach the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals.

Look at his new Cats. Dayton transfer Koby Brea made a ridiculous 49.8% of his 3-point attempts last season. Brea averaged 3.8 made 3-pointers per game. West Virginia transfer Kerr Krissa made 42.9% of his 3s. Krissa made 3.5 per game. Fairleigh Dickinson transfer Ansley Almonor shot 39.4% from long range last season. Almonor made 2.9 per game. Oklahoma transfer Otega Oweh shot 37.7% from distance. Wake Forest transfer Andrew Carr shot 37.1% from 3-point range. Carr is 6-foot-11.

Worriers believe Pope lacks bucket-getters. Lanier could be one. He averaged 19.7 points per game last season at North Florida. Robinson could be one. The Big 12’s Sixth Man of the Year averaged 14.2 points per game at BYU. Lanier and Robinson both put their names in the NBA draft. The withdrawal deadline is May 29.

The SEC requires a defensive presence, too. Pope covered that base. San Diego State transfer Lamont Butler was voted Defensive Player of the Year in the Mountain West Conference. Drexel transfer Amari Williams was Defensive Player of the Year in the Colonial Athletic Association. Oklahoma State transfer Brandon Garrison could be an elite defender. He’s listed at 6-11. Williams is listed at 6-10.

How will they play together? That’s the big question. The answer is no one knows for sure until they take the same floor. There will be hiccups, of course. But no doubt Pope has thought about that, too. He didn’t merely recruit players, or positions, or numbers. He also recruited personalities. Eleven, so far. Two more to go.

Kentucky basketball fans want their program back. Mark Pope wants to give it to them.

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