BYU Basketball Coach Shares His Journey From A National Championship At Kentucky & 7 Years In The NBA That Led Him To BYU
Mark Pope was hired as head men’s basketball coach at BYU on April 10, 2019. He is the 19th head men’s basketball coach since the Cougars’ inaugural season in 1902-03. Pope came to Provo after serving as head coach at Utah Valley University for the previous four seasons.
“We are excited to announce Mark as our new head men’s basketball coach and welcome him and his family back to BYU,” BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe said of Pope’s hiring. “Mark is an outstanding leader and coach. He is also an exceptional recruiter, who recognizes BYU’s unique opportunities for success. We look forward to having him build on the great tradition of BYU basketball.”
Pope’s coaching career has included stints as an assistant coach at Georgia, Wake Forest and BYU before he was named the head coach at Utah Valley. As a player, Pope helped Kentucky win the 1996 NCAA National Title before enjoying a professional career that included stints in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets.
“I’d like to thank the BYU administration,” Pope said at his introductory press conference. “It’s been an unbelievable opportunity for me to go through this process and see the vision. This place is like nowhere else. It’s such an honor and privilege to be the head basketball coach at BYU. There’s a standard of excellence on this campus and with this program. Those high expectations are one of the things that excites me the most about being here.”
In four years at Utah Valley, Pope’s Wolverine teams made improvements each season, going from 12 wins in 2015-16 to 25 victories in 2018-19. He also led Utah Valley to three-straight postseason appearances (2017, 2018, 2019) and back-to-back 20-win seasons (2017-18, 2018-19)—both are Wolverine records.
The 2018-19 season was highlighted by a program-record 25 wins and an 11-4 non-conference record, the best non-league record in UVU history. His team finished 14-1 at home and owned a 22-game home win streak — also a Wolverine record and the second-longest streak in the country at the time. In addition to the team success, Pope coached the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
Pope’s 2017-18 campaign finished with a 23-11 record, including the best home mark in school history of 16-1. The season began with what was known as the #Toughest24 as Pope and the Wolverines opened on the road at No. 4 Kentucky and No. 1 Duke on consecutive nights. That season ended with a trip to the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational.
In 2016-17, Pope led Utah Valley to 17 wins and a trip to the CBI. The Wolverines won a pair of road games — the school’s first-ever postseason victories — to reach the semifinals of the CBI.
While on Dave Rose’s staff at BYU from 2011-15, Pope helped the Cougars to four-straight 20-win seasons and four-straight postseason appearances – including three bids to the NCAA Tournament and trip to the semifinals of the 2013 NIT. Prior to coaching at BYU, Pope was director of basketball operations for Mark Fox at Georgia in 2009-10 and an assistant under Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest in 2010-11.
A 6-foot-10 post player, Pope helped Kentucky claim the 1996 NCAA National Championship and enjoyed a nine-year professional career that included seven seasons in the NBA and two in Turkey. Pope was drafted in the second round of the 1996 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers. Following the draft, Pope played his first season as a professional in Turkey for Efes Pilsen. He then played two seasons for the Indiana Pacers under head coach Larry Bird and helped the Pacers to the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals.
In 1999-00, Pope split time between the La Crosse Bobcats of the CBA and Ulkerspor in Turkey. He returned to the NBA the next season, playing for the Milwaukee Bucks under head coach George Karl. In 2000-01, he started 45 games and helped the Bucks reach the Eastern Conference Finals. After two seasons with the Bucks, Pope spent the 2002-03 season on injured reserve with the New York Knicks. He concluded his NBA career playing two seasons with the Denver Nuggets from 2003-05.
Pope began his collegiate career playing at Washington. As a freshman in 1991-92, he earned Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors after setting a Washington freshman single-season record with 8.1 rebounds per game. He earned All-Academic honors from the Pac-10 as a sophomore in 1992-93.
Following his sophomore season, Pope transferred to Kentucky where he played for Rick Pitino. After redshirting in 1993-94, Pope helped the Wildcats win back-to-back SEC titles, advance to the NCAA Elite Eight in 1995 and win the NCAA National Championship in 1996. He averaged 7.6 points and 5.2 rebounds and was a team captain during Kentucky's championship season. Pope earned Academic All-SEC honors in 1995 and graduated from Kentucky with a degree in English in 1996.
Before joining the basketball staff at Georgia, Pope completed two years of medical school at Columbia University in New York. He did much of his pre-med course work while playing in the NBA. Pope and his wife Lee Anne have four daughters: Ella, Avery, Layla and Shay. Lee Anne worked at ESPN before serving as David Letterman's personal assistant for four years.
Starting Young (3:15)
Learning from his father (5:31)
Losing a job to starting his business (8:15)
Jumping over roadbumps (18:13)
Starting the morning early (22:47)
Eliminating excuses (30:32)
Opportunity is found in inefficiency (35:33)