From the NBA to med school to UVU

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Mark Pope: The Road Less Traveled

Kyle McDonald | Sports Writer | @kylesportsbias

Photo Credit: Gabi Campbell, Photo Editor, @gabicampbellphotos

On March 31, 2015, Utah Valley University athletic director Vince Otoupal introduced Mark Pope as the new men’s basketball head coach. The charisma and energy that Pope showed throughout his speech and day plus the fact that they took him away from BYU made for a great day in UVU Athletics. 

Sitting in his office with his feet on the desk just relaxing from running around, Pope talks about his decision to become the assistant coach at BYU four years ago. “I had seen the work that Coach Rose had done and I was really curious about how he did it with the players he had.” He has never been to Utah and never been to the campus which made his decision more unique. “I came and spent a weekend here and loved it, still do.” Wolverine fans are happy that he chose to come to Provo and that he accepted the opportunity presented to him at UVU.

He talks about the NBA and how much fun it was but he also has a different perspective. “It’s noisy, it’s fast, chaotic and it’s stressful.” He played for the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, and the Milwaukee Bucks. “It’s physically incredibly demanding.”

He was happy when they weren’t at the arena or when he could close the door to his room. During his time in the NBA he was also taking post-bachelor’s degree courses from NYU, Marquette, University of Colorado, and Columbia. It may seem strange to some for an NBA player to be studying but for Coach Pope it was a great opportunity to rest and refresh. “Cracking open a book and just studying these fascinating courses was something really therapeutic for me.”

Pope almost didn’t become a basketball coach or a director of basketball operations at the University of Georgia. He was studying medicine at Columbia University where he wanted to become a primary care doctor or even emergency medicine. Those studies lasted for three years but he always felt in the back of his mind that he wanted to get back into basketball. “I missed the demonstrative outward emotion that is so required in athletics,” Pope said. Close to the end of his third year Georgia Head Coach Mark Fox called and offered Pope a job as the director of basketball operations. “We took three weeks and made a really hard decision and left.”

It was a move that led to Pope becoming an assistant at Wake Forest for a year under Jeff Bzdelik, then taking the position at BYU, and ultimately landing at UVU.

Pope knows that UVU doesn’t have the tradition that Kentucky (where he played and won a national title in 1996), Georgia, Wake Forest, or BYU have built.

What he does believe is that that UVU can and will win a lot of games and gain a national presence.  “I think that this league is a good league… I think we’ll be successful in this league,” Pope said. “I didn’t come here if I didn’t think we would win.”