'Hang the 9th banner': Mark Pope's goals are clear at Kentucky. It's how he attacks them that sets him apart

Mark Pope understands the pressures and expectations that come with playing and coaching at Kentucky -- better than just about anyone.
Mark Pope exits the bus with holding a trophy as he enters Rupp Arena greeting thousands of fans for his introductory press conference on Sunday, April 14, 2024.
Mark Pope exits the bus with holding a trophy as he enters Rupp Arena greeting thousands of fans for his introductory press conference on Sunday, April 14, 2024. / Clare Grant/Courier Journal / USA TODAY

Mark Pope's goals are clear at Kentucky. It's about national championships. There's no secondary goal or expectation. He understands that better than anyone else since he lived it and won one of the banners hanging inside Rupp Arena.

But, he also understands that doesn't happen overnight and if you get too caught up in the end goal, the process and progress along the way can get hidden and forgotten.

So, it's how he attacks the goals that sets him apart.

"Our goals and expectations are clear and they are different than anywhere else," Pope said on the Paul Finebaum show during the SEC Spring Meetings. "It's number 9. That's what we talk about every single day. Our job is to come here and hang the ninth banner at University of Kentucky and nothing short of that is going to be acceptable.

"With that understood as the goal, there's this dichotomy, that you have that on the horizon but what your focus has to be every day is getting better every day. That's how you get there."

While it may be cliche, it's honest. It's transparent. It's also effective in the fact that just two months ago when he took the job at UK, he had a roster of 0.

It's been as hectic a first two months on the job that a new coach can have. However, Mark Pope thinks it actually allowed him to be set up for success, not failure.

"It's really exhilarating esepcially for us. We play a -- we push the envelope on style of play. We're very, very much pushing a pro style of play so it's a unique style to college basketball," Pope said. "So getting to jump in the portal and handpick guys that fit the way we play exactly and do it from the beginning has been really exhilarating. We are really excited about the roster we've put together."

Players will arrive on campus on June 10. That's their 'onboarding' week. The fundamentals of what Kentucky will be out. Then, June 17 is full steam ahead.

That's when it's about the details of progress every day that will set him and his team apart. Because at the end of the day, they need to be progressing daily, every single day, if they want to reach the end goal of Banner 9.

"The most important thing is we walk off the court a little better than we walked on. And we will accept nothing less," Pope said. "We will be tyrannic about that and that's how you achieve that long term goal of banner number nine, is getting better every day and that's why our guys are coming here."

'Our guys' are made up of nine transfers and three high school prospects. Most likely, the roster is now set.

Who exactly are his guys?

"We're recruiting guys where that name on the front of the jersey means something," Pope said. "It'll mean more to them every day here that they're here as players at the University of Kentucky. It's a really important part of what we're doing."

So while the summer months begin and the critical offseason of teaching and development gets underway, nothing changes from the status quo.

"Setting a goal every day," Pope said. "Having a metric you can record and analyzing growth every single day."