Kentucky basketball coach Mark Pope is at 2024 Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is always a chance for A-listers and celebrities to be seen at one of the most well-known sporting events in the United States.

On Saturday, it was new Kentucky basketball coach Mark Pope’s turn to embrace that spotlight.

Pope — the former head coach at BYU and Utah Valley who was hired to replace John Calipari as the Wildcats’ head coach on April 12 — was at Churchill Downs on Saturday afternoon ahead of the running of the 150th Kentucky Derby.

Click to resize

A key member of Kentucky’s 1996 national championship squad, Pope has been logging significant travel hours in recent weeks as he assembles a roster from scratch for the 2024-25 season.

Pope’s recruiting efforts have taken him everywhere from Oklahoma to Las Vegas this offseason. On Friday morning, Pope was in Utah to greet incoming UK player Collin Chandler at an airport. Chandler, who was formerly signed to play for Pope at BYU, was returning home from a two-year mission trip for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Prior to his arrival Saturday at Churchill Downs, Pope and his fellow UK coaching staff members lodged their Derby picks. Pope went with Sierra Leone, the winner of the 100th running of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland earlier this spring.

Each of the five UK coaching staff members went with a different horse as their Derby selection.

During the short period of time that Pope has been back in Central Kentucky, he’s also been a frequent visitor at Keeneland. Pope took former Drexel forward and future Kentucky Wildcat Amari Williams to Keeneland as part of his recruiting visit to Lexington.

When Pope was at Keeneland with Williams, he was interviewed by FanDuel Racing.

“We’re deeply into the work right now and enjoying every second of it,” Pope said during that interview. “I’m not sure exactly what I’m allowed to talk about and not, but we’re here on business. So, we’re trying to get some work done.”

Williams is one of seven players from the NCAA transfer portal that has committed to play for Pope at UK this offseason.

Pope has also been seen at Keeneland with UK basketball legend Dan Issel.

In total, nine players are part of Pope’s first Kentucky roster for next season. This group includes two first-year players, Chandler and in-state guard Travis Perry, a former star at Lyon County High School who is the all-time leading scorer in Kentucky high school boys basketball history.

The other seven additions have all come via the transfer portal.

They are third-year guard Otega Oweh (Oklahoma), fifth-year guards Koby Brea (Dayton), Lamont Butler (San Diego State) and Kerr Kriisa (Arizona and West Virginia), fifth-year forwards Amari Williams (Drexel) and Andrew Carr (Delaware and Wake Forest) and second-year center Brandon Garrison (Oklahoma State).

Pope has four more scholarship spots that he could fill for his 2024-25 roster.

Profile Image of Cameron Drummond

Cameron Drummond works as a sports reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader with a focus on Kentucky men’s basketball recruiting and the UK men’s basketball team, horse racing, soccer and other sports in Central Kentucky. Drummond is a second-generation American who was born and raised in Texas, before graduating from Indiana University. He is a fluent Spanish speaker who previously worked as a community news reporter in Austin, Texas.
Support my work with a digital subscription