Kentucky made it official on Friday, naming BYU’s Mark Pope as the 23rd head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats basketball program.

Pope transferred to Kentucky after his sophomore season and would go on to become the captain of Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team. He spent 6 seasons in the NBA and has spent the last 9 coaching at Utah Valley and BYU. He holds a 187-108 career record as a head coach and his teams have won at least 20 games in 6 of the last 7 seasons. He coached BYU to 2 NCAA Tournament appearances in 5 years.

“Mark Pope not only brings an impressive record in nine years as a head coach, but also a love of the University of Kentucky and a complete understanding of what our program means to the people of our state,” athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “As a captain on the ‘96 championship team, Mark was a beloved and respected teammate. As a head coach, he is highly regarded nationally as an innovator. His teams run a unique and dynamic up-tempo offense and they get after it on defense. He is a strong recruiter with international ties and a person of integrity.

“He fully embraces our high expectations and standards and I know that as our fans get reacquainted with Mark, they will be eager to join him on what promises to be an exciting ride.”

Reports emerged on Thursday that Barnhart had turned his attention to Pope following several failed attempts to lure away national championship-winning coaches from other programs. The reaction was mixed. Fans who had heard names like Dan Hurley and Billy Donovan in recent days were left feeling underwhelmed. Some in the media expressed optimism that Pope — a man who intimately understands all that comes with the Kentucky fishbowl — could work if given the time.

BYU finished this most recent season 18th in KenPom’s national rankings. The Cougars won 12 of their first 13 games and then went 10-8 in conference play in their first full season in the Big 12. During the run of league play, BYU knocked off No. 7 Kansas, No. 11 Baylor, and No. 24 Iowa State. They took 50.4% of their shot attempts from 3-point range and assisted on 63.4% of their makes — both top-10 marks nationally. And they were a top-25 shooting team.

Under Pope, BYU finished top-20 in KenPom’s overall rankings 3 times, peaking at No. 13 in his first season.

“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball. It’s the definition of a blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation every year,” Pope said. “Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the Commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul.

“I’m thankful to Dr. (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I’m proud to be your next head coach and I can’t wait to do this together!”

After a 29-35 start to his tenure at Utah Valley, Pope’s teams went 23-11 and 25-10 over his final 2 seasons with the Aggies. He went 110-52 in 5 years at BYU. There is concern about the tournament résumé to this point, as Pope made 2 appearances in the Big Dance but lost in the first round twice as a 6-seed. The Cougars were knocked off by 11-seed Duquesne in the first round last month, 71-67.

Part of the frustration with John Calipari stemmed from his lack of postseason success. Kentucky has just 1 NCAA Tournament victory since the 2018-19 season. Pope will be expected to produce in the postseason, which makes the next few weeks all the more important.

Reed Sheppard, Kentucky’s third-leading scorer this past season, has a draft decision to make. Pope played with Sheppard’s father and could pitch the sharpshooter on an expanded role within his system. The younger Sheppard played in all 33 Kentucky games this past season but was used primarily off the bench. He averaged 12.5 points and 2.5 steals a game while shooting 52.1% from 3 and was named the SEC Freshman of the Year for his efforts.

On Thursday, fans attended Sheppard’s pro camp inside Rupp Arena and chanted “one more year” from the stands.

Pope will presumably make his best sales pitch soon. He has a roster to build, and Sheppard would be a huge piece. With Calipari’s 1-and-done strategy, the Wildcats have grown accustomed to young rosters that turn over every year. We’ll find out in the coming weeks how Pope chooses to build.