June 14, 2024

Days after John Calipari left town, Mark Pope stood on a podium in front of a sold-out crowd at Rupp Arena on Sunday.

During his official introduction, Kentucky’s new coach, who signed a five-year deal for $5.5 million per season, said he’s aware of the expectations around the program.

I understand the assignment, Pope said. We are here to win banners. As we go through this journey, we’re here to win banners in Nashville [at the SEC tournament] because you guys turn out in Nashville like nobody else and that matters.

And our job here and our assignment is here to win banners in the Final Four, national championships. That’s our job.

Pope’s arrival marked the latest step in a surprising sequence of events that has changed the SEC and men’s college basketball.

Three days ago, Calipari was introduced as the head coach at Arkansas following a 15-year tenure that included the 2012 national title.

Calipari decided to leave the Wildcats after a series of lackluster postseason finishes and speculation about his future.

Kentucky, widely considered one of the top jobs in the sport, had reportedly pursued elite candidates, such as UConn’s Dan Hurley, Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan, Baylor’s Scott Drew and Alabama head coach Nate Oats.

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