Tim Castaneda, Sports Writer, @xTIMBOxSLICEx
Photo Credit: Gabi Campbell, Photo Editor, @gabicampbellphotos
UVU athletics announced the hiring of former BYU basketball assistant coach Mark Pope as the replacement to take the reign of its basketball program in a press conference held this afternoon at Utah Valley University.
In attendance to announce the deal they reached with their new “pope” of basketball were Vince Otoupal, UVU athletic director, Val Peterson, UVU vice president, and Matthew Holland, UVU president, who each took part in the hiring process.
They welcomed coach Pope with the dignity and excitement you would expect a school to have when ringing in a new era of a sports program.
“We’re taking it to a new level starting today,” said Otoupal. “We’ve been on a great trajectory and now we’re taking it even higher. We’re glad to have Coach Pope here with us, and we’re lucky to have him. It’s going to be a great ride.”
The school president chimed in about how the decision was made to hire a coach from a neighboring school such as BYU, which is only separated from UVU by 10 miles.
“For a lot of us, we thought ‘we’re bigtime, so we can hire from anywhere. We don’t need to look across the fence,’” said President Holland. “But (Pope) impressed us as the best candidate and best fit for this time. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”
After coach Pope took the stage to discuss his vision for the program, there is cause for excitement for Wolverines fans and students.
“We can make this program bigger than any of us in this room could imagine,” he said. “Chasing dreams and shooting for the stars. That’s what we’re going to be about, and we’re going to do the hard work to make that happen.”
With a go-get-it mentality, he also brings the team a new style of play that fans will look forward to seeing, and, on the other hand, players will need to adjust to in a few ways.
“We’re going to play fast, furious and free,” said Pope. “That means a ton of running and conditioning. It’s a really hard and taxing way to play. But when you get there, when you get your body, team and focus right, to play that way there is nothing like it. It’s the best way to play in the world.”
Prior to the new gig, coach Pope spent four years at BYU assisting Dave Rose and their basketball program with defense, big men and opposing team scouting since 2011. Rose is known for his high-flying, up-tempo offense that has seen much success at BYU in competition with many prestigious NCAA Division I basketball programs.
He discussed all that he learned from Dave Rose such as managing situations, players, staff and media. In addition to those lessons, he said that the most important thing coach Rose taught him is winning. In his four seasons on Dave Rose’s coaching staff, BYU went 98-43 during the team’s the transition from the Mountain West to the West Coast Conference.
Pope brings to the program much basketball experience and expertise as a former player, as well as in his previous coaching stints.
He played college ball at Washington, where he spent two years, before transferring to Kentucky to complete his collegiate career with a national championship in 1996. He later moved on the NBA, playing for the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets.
Pope thanked many former coaches from his past playing career, from high school and college to the NBA, all of whom reached out to university officials to convince them to hire him.
“I’m really grateful to all those men who have taught me so much. Not just about being on the court, but about relating with individuals, young men and with a team,” he said.
Among those mentioned include his college coaches Lynn Nance and Rick Pitino, and NBA coaches such as Larry Bird, George Karl and Rick Carlisle.
Other places Pope has coached include Georgia and Wake Forest, both of the Southeastern Conference.
He inherits a program going through a transition, as the Wolverines are coming off a 5-9 record this past season in conference play and an 11-19 overall record.
There is no doubt among not only top officials at UVU, but in the basketball world as well, that Pope can get the basketball program running in the right direction.
The guidance Pope provides as a coach is left with one of his former players as a great memory of someone who can help a team get through trying times.
“There were two points the past two seasons when we thought the ship was going to down,” said Tyler Haws, the all-time leading scorer in BYU basketball history. “I remember having lots of long chats with him. He had a way of getting my mind right, focusing on getting better that day and living in the present. I owe a lot of my success to him and what he’s done for me.”
Skyler Halford and Anson Winder, both of whom played under Rose and Pope at BYU during the past few years, also attended the press conference to congratulate and thank their former mentor.
Here’s to an exciting next few years of Wolverine basketball with a new “pope” at the helms.