July 13, 2024

Mark Pope is the best person to know what it’s like to play at Kentucky.

Pope, after all, captained the Wildcats’ 1996 national championship team, which finished 34-2, had nine players who went on to become professionals, and is widely considered as one of the best college basketball teams in history. Pope spent three seasons in Lexington.

The new head coach in the UK is currently attempting to instill some of that in his players.

“Rupp Arena is a sacred building to me, so one of the things I’ve done with every, single recruit, is we’ll walk into Upper Street into Rupp Arena, and I’ll take the guys and sit with them in the upper deck,” Pope said. “We go about 10 rows from the top. It’s steep up there, whew! But I’m telling you, it’s something really special to go sit there in the quiet of that gym and just take in what it looks like from 10 rows down from the top. And so we’ll spend some time, and we’ll look at the jerseys up on the wall, and talk about the history of guys who have gone through there. It’s actually super special. I love it. I could do it every day for the rest of my life. I love it so much being in that building and looking at those banners up on the wall.”

Pope recently said that he takes every prospect who visits campus to Rupp Arena so they can understand the seriousness of what it means to wear the blue and white and play for the Wildcats. He made this claim on the former Kentucky guard John Wall’s Point Game Podcast with CJ Toledano.

And it’s not just the reverence of the building itself, which serves as one of college basketball’s biggest cathedrals. It’s the people that fill it.

“The other thing we talk about is the people that come and sit in those seats,” Pope said. “It’s probably people, a lot of times, that have spent their whole lifetime cheering for Kentucky and this is the first time they’ve ever got to come sit in those seats and when our guys get to actually think about that and understand that, that’s the beginnings of them kind of starting to comprehend what BBN is. It’s unique in the landscape of athletics that we get to come compete for these people.”

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