BYU basketball: Mark Pope brings different type of hoops experience

Published: Friday, May 27 2011 7:16 p.m. MDT

PROVO — Mark Pope, BYU's newest assistant basketball coach, doesn't have much coaching experience.

He spent one season as the director of basketball operations at Georgia, followed by one season as an assistant at Wake Forest.

But as a player, he experienced a little bit of everything.

Pope, who stands 6-foot-10, played at Washington and Kentucky, helping lead the Wildcats to a national championship in 1996. Then came a nine-year professional career, with included stints in the National Basketball Association and overseas. During his career, he was coached by Rick Pitino, Larry Bird, and George Karl.

Pope knows the glory of winning an NCAA title, as much as he knows about being a reserve at the end of an NBA bench.

The depth and breadth of his experiences, both good and bad, comprises part of what Pope brings to the Cougars.

"It's humbling. The game's tricky," he said Friday during a news conference. "Dealing with the game mentally and emotionally is tricky. They're vulnerable kids, they're chasing dreams, they're dealing with changing dynamics all the time. Going through that process helps you relate to what they're feeling on a day-to-day standpoint.

"I've been really, really blessed to watch great coaches and just as blessed to be with great players and how they do things. The way you stay alive is by trying to listen to every innuendo the coach throws out there and you try to do it exactly the way he wants you to. That's how you stay alive. I was blessed to be around great people. Hopefully all of those little things I was able to pick up along the way, I can pass on to guys if they're interested. That's really been helpful. Then there's the experience of going through it."

BYU coach Dave Rose hired Pope earlier this month to replace Dave Rice, who left to take the head coaching job at UNLV.

Pope didn't know Rose well, but the two became acquainted while both were on the road recruiting.

"I purposefully sat by him, thinking if I sat close to him, some of that mojo would rub off on me because he's done an outstanding job here," Pope said. "We got to talk quite a bit, sitting watching games."

When the job opened, Pope said he aggressively pursued the position.

"I had to beg Coach Rose. I begged and pleaded day after day after day. Finally he said, 'Alright, I'll talk to you.' I think he just got sick of me, so he let me come. This is an unbelievable opportunity to work for him and be at this school."

What attracted him to the BYU job?

"It's a special program and a special staff and a great group of kids. A chance to be at this university, which is so unique. It's become more and more apparent to me, being a coach in college at a couple of different places, really understanding how unique and special this place is and really sprinted toward the opportunity to be a part of it. This is a place like no other in college basketball. I'm fortunate to be here ... Being an LDS guy, you're watching BYU. Everybody has been watching BYU the last couple of years because the program's been so good and so fun to watch. I was keeping tabs on it and I always thought it would be really amazing to have the opportunity to coach here someday. It worked out perfectly."

A Seattle-area native, Pope played two years at Washington before transferring to Kentucky. He never made a visit to BYU.

"Recruiting can be really overwhelming. It was for us. We had to narrow it down to a few schools to visit," Pope said. "For a number of reasons, BYU was not on the list. But it wasn't because I don't have a deep respect for the program and the history. It just wasn't the right call for me at that time under the circumstances."

Pope's wife, Lee Anne, is the daughter of the late Lynn Archibald, who was the head coach at Utah in the 1980s and was an assistant at BYU in the 1990s. Lee Anne graduated from BYU.

"She's really excited (to be back)," Pope said. "It's emotional for her a little bit. She was in Bountiful for a long time because her dad was the coach at the University of Utah. Then her dad was here as an assistant. He had so many great friends here and she did also, and still does. We've traveled all over the country the last 15 years and this is the first time it seems like coming home."

Pope is looking forward to coaching BYU players, including Brandon Davies, who was suspended last March for violating the school's Honor Code. Davies has withdrawn from school and will re-enroll in the fall. The Cougars are planning on having Davies back next season.

While Pope admits he doesn't know Davies well, he called him "a courageous kid. He's obviously been through a deal and he's working his way through it. He's unbelievably talented. He seems like a soft-hearted, kind kid. He has a big heart and the potential to be a tremendous player."

e-mail: jeffc@desnews.com

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