June 19, 2024

The most scrutinized job in college basketball didn’t go to someone whose coaching résumé is littered with Sweet 16s and Final Fours.

Kentucky hired a men’s coach who has yet to celebrate a conference title or win a single NCAA tournament game.

Kentucky hired a men’s coach who has yet to celebrate a conference title or win a single NCAA tournament game.

Into the unsparing Lexington limelight steps Mark Pope, a former Kentucky player who captained the program’s powerhouse 1996 national championship team.

Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart’s stunning decision to hire Pope raises obvious questions: Is this the best Kentucky could do? Would Barnhart have made this choice so early in the search if Pope wasn’t one of Kentucky’s own?

In fairness to Barnhart, the pool of splashy candidates available to Kentucky had already begun to shrink. Alabama’s Nate Oats pulled his name out of consideration on Monday night even before John Calipari formally resigned.

Baylor’s Scott Drew turned down Kentucky on Thursday morning, announcing that God called him and his family to remain in Waco (Texas).

UConn’s Dan Hurley also passed on a big-money offer, reiterating that he was happier chasing a three-peat in Storrs.

And yet even with those names off the board, there were plenty of other established coaches for Barnhart to chase.

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