Mark Pope thankful for John Calipari but fully prepared for 'fiery' matchup when he returns to Kentucky

Mark Pope is grateful for John Calipari and what he did for Kentucky, but understands what the atmosphere will be like when he makes his return to Lexington.
University of Arkansas Introduces John Calipari
University of Arkansas Introduces John Calipari / Wesley Hitt/GettyImages

Mark Pope is stepping into a role that not many head coaches have done before -- anywhere. He is taking over his alma mater and replacing one of the greatest coaches in college basketball over the last two decades.

Replacing John Calipari is no easy task. He changed the expectations for Kentucky basketball into nearly a Final Four or bust every season he was on the sidelines. After not reaching those goals as frequently over the last half of his tenure in Lexington as he did the first half, he left to try to build up another SEC program.

Pope now turns his attention to their matchup in Rupp Arena this year which he knows will be an amazing atmosphere when Arkansas and Calipari return.

"We're in the same league and we get to go head-to-head here at Rupp this year. And it's going to be fiery," Pope told Fox Sports' John Fanta. "There will be fireworks because that's how Cal is, that's why he's so good and that's certainly how we're going to represent the University of Kentucky." 

While Pope knows that the fans and the arena will be mostly a heavy dose of 'boos' for Calipari when he returns, he also wants people to remember what Calipari did for Kentucky and college basketball.

"Cal was on track to coach here forever," Pope added. "He did such unbelievable work here. In his own way, he set a new trajectory for college basketball."

In fact, Mark Pope hasn't shied away from spending time with Calipari since the two took over new programs. They were chatting during SEC meetings last month, together at AAU events this spring and even taking pictures together during the Final Four -- shortly before the news broke of Calipari's departure.

Pope has a very high respect for the former Kentucky head coach.

"I love Cal, man," Pope added. "I've spent a lot of time with him, and he's been so generous and gracious with me my whole career. I think he's that way to everybody, and he's one of the great ambassadors of the game. What he did here at Kentucky is super special, man. It's really incredible."

While there is no date set for Arkansas' matchup in Lexington, it will surely be one of the hottest tickets in all of college basketball.

Not only will it be a return date for Calipari, it will for a handful of Arkansas' roster that was on Kentucky a season ago, in addition to multiple freshmen who were originally signed or committed to play in Lexington.

For Mark Pope, he brought in 12 new players -- a group that got on the floor for the first time together this week.

There will certainly be no quiet time for Pope and his Kentucky roster at any point in his debut season.