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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Utah Valley Wolverines coach Mark Pope disputes a call against Utah at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.

PROVO — Former BYU basketball player Travis Hansen met Mark Pope years ago when they were playing in the NBA.

Hansen was with the Atlanta Hawks, whose coach at the time was Terry Stotts, a longtime George Karl assistant. Pope was with the Denver Nuggets and he had played under both Karl and Stotts.

“So we have similar connections and similar personalities,” Hansen said.

Pope and Hansen became friends and their relationship grew stronger when Pope became a BYU assistant coach and then head coach at Utah Valley University.

Hansen attended Dave Rose’s retirement press conference at the Marriott Center Tuesday to support his former coach. And, like many, he’s eager to see who the school will hire next to oversee the Cougar basketball program.

From Hansen’s perspective, Pope, who served as Rose’s top assistant for four years, would be a great fit for BYU among a solid group of candidates.

“I think he’d be phenomenal in business. He could do a startup. He has the passion and energy. When Rose announced his retirement, I texted Mark, ‘Buckle up!’ He said, ‘I’m always buckled, bro.’ He’s just unique,” Hansen said of Pope. “When you build an organization, a leader is hard to find. I don’t know where to start to name all the attributes he has. Then he goes and marries Lynn Archibald’s daughter, who’s 9.9 on the scale of a perfect coach’s wife. She’s so good. They’re a power couple.

“Mark has the pedigree, which is really important with players,” Hansen continued. “And the credibility that he has — he won a national championship as a player, he played under (Rick) Pitino and he played in the NBA. You can check all of those boxes.”

It appears that Pope is also on the radar of other schools looking for new head coaches. There are reports that he is a candidate for openings at Cal, Georgia State and UNLV.

Hansen's not the only one who believes in Pope's potential. Pitino, the former Kentucky and Louisville coach, recently tweeted, “With all of the job openings, someone should jump to hire Mark Pope. He has done a great job at Utah Valley. 5 star teacher, recruiter, and person. A superstar on the horizon.”

" From my point of view, there will be a lot of candidates. The school will go through the due process. They’ll make sure they talk to every candidate out there and interview them. I’m biased with Mark. If it’s not BYU, he’ll end up somewhere. We’re either going to watch him on BYUtv or on ESPN, because the guy’s good. "
Travis Hansen, on UVU coach Mark Pope

Because he’s coached at BYU, Pope knows the landscape, and the challenges, at BYU in regard to the coming and going of missionaries, the honor code and strict academic standards. Is that a challenge Pope wants?

“It depends on whether he wants to make a ton of money and go to these different opportunities,” Hansen said. “Thank goodness he’s a member of (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Thank goodness he decided to go into coaching instead of medical school because I think the candidate pool would be weakened if he were not in there.

“I think other guys could do the job for sure, but he’s special,” Hansen continued. “I’d be ignorant enough to think that I could take BYU to the Final Four. I think he’s built the same way. I think he’d take on the challenge, personally. I don’t know who else is talking to him. I know his name has been thrown around — University of California and Georgia State. I know the NBA has reached out to him. I know he has opportunities. I hope that he goes to BYU, personally.”

At UVU, Pope has taken the Wolverines to new heights with a 77-55 record (.583), including three straight CBI appearances. He reportedly earns a base salary of $1.275 million as part of his six-year contract. He signed an extension last summer.

Meanwhile, there are several other candidates out there that BYU could contact and interview, including Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who was a finalist for the UVU job before Pope was hired; Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Kevin Young, who is a Salt Lake City native and has significant support from BYU alums with NBA ties; Alex Jensen, a Utah Jazz assistant; Jon Judkins, the head coach at Dixie State; and Quincy Lewis, who has been a BYU assistant since 2015 and is currently the Cougars’ interim head coach.

At his press conference Tuesday, Rose said that the pool of candidates to replace him is “really big,” adding that “when you consider four out of the last five coaches here at BYU were hired without any Division I (head) coaching experience, there’s a large net that’s got to be thrown out here to find the right guy.”

Hansen believes Pope is the right guy.

“From my point of view, there will be a lot of candidates. The school will go through the due process,” he said. “They’ll make sure they talk to every candidate out there and interview them. I’m biased with Mark. If it’s not BYU, he’ll end up somewhere. We’re either going to watch him on BYUtv or on ESPN, because the guy’s good.”

Tom Smart, Deseret News
UVU coach Mark Pope grimaces during game against BYU Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, in Provo.

Former BYU star Jackson Emery didn't play for Pope but he knows what Pope would bring to the Cougars.

“I was around the program when he was there," he said. "People have nothing but great things to say about him. He’s very much a players' coach. He has a lot of pride in making sure he’s that kind of individual."

Emery added there are other strong candidates for the job.

"I am biased toward Quincy Lewis. He was my high school coach. I feel like he was beyond his ability to be a high school coach and could do something at the next level from building a program and building individual skill-set programs," Emery said. "After I played at BYU, I felt he would be a great assistant and a great head coach at the next level. Those two guys, Mark and Quincy, have a lot opportunities to do great things with BYU if they get that opportunity.”

Former Cougar guard Skyler Halford played for Pope at BYU and would like to see him get a shot as head coach.

“There are a lot of good candidates out there with a lot of good experience. I obviously am close to coach Pope because he was an assistant while I was at BYU. Just watching what he’s done at UVU, he’s been really successful," he said. "He has great mentors like coach Rose and coach Pitino. I think he’d be a great fit for the program. He’s already been there and he knows how things work.

“He knows the game. He played it for a long time and played for great coaches and coached with great coaches," Halford continued. "He’s got the Xs and Os and recruiting down. He’s a coach that really knows how to get in touch with his players and understand them and get the most out of them.

“You have one conversation with Mark Pope and you feel better because of it. You have the feeling he’s interested in you. That’s something I’ve always admired about him. His energy is level 100. With his UVU team, he’ll come in with squirt guns or water balloons after a big win. He makes the game fun but not to where you’re losing that mental edge."

Halford recalled Pope's love for BYU when he coached in Provo.

“I remember a week before we played Utah, one of the players came into the locker room before practice with a red sweatshirt on," he said. "It didn’t have a ‘U’ on it or anything, obviously. Coach Pope said, ’Take that shirt off!’ He literally made the guy take the shirt off and throw it outside the locker room. He was so amped for that Utah game that seeing the color red lit a fire under him.”

Pope is married to Lee Anne Archibald, a BYU graduate. Her dad, the late Lynn Archibald, was Utah’s head coach in the 1980s and an assistant at BYU in the 1990s. Lee Anne’s brothers, Damon and Beau, have coached at the major college level.

But Pope hasn’t been in the coaching business very long, relatively speaking.

About a decade ago, he was three years into studying at the University of Columbia School of Physicians and Surgeons when he left to take a basketball coaching job.

Before being hired by Rose at BYU, he had spent one season as the director of basketball operations at Georgia, followed by one season as an assistant at Wake Forest.

Pope and Rose became acquainted while they were both on the road recruiting. When Rose had an opening on his staff, Pope aggressively pursued the position.

As a player, Pope, a 6-foot-10 center, played at Washington, then transferred to Kentucky, where he helped the Wildcats win the 1996 national championship. He then embarked on a nine-year professional career, both in the NBA and overseas.

During his playing career, Pope had a wide array of experiences, from the glory of winning an NCAA title to being a reserve at the end of an NBA bench, that has shaped his coaching style.

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“Dealing with the game mentally and emotionally is tricky,” Pope said while he was a BYU assistant. “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 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 been really helpful. Then there’s the experience of going through it.”