Mark Pope waiting for NBA Combine decisions to round out Kentucky’s roster

Mark Pope has been busy traveling to Chicago for the G-League Elite Camp and NBA Draft Combine while awaiting NBA decisions from his three primary transfer targets, Chaz Lanier, Wooga Poplar, and Jaxson Robinson.
Former Kentucky basketball player and new head coach Mark Pope
Former Kentucky basketball player and new head coach Mark Pope / Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal / USA

Kentucky has three remaining scholarship spots on its roster and Mark Pope has spent much of his week in Chicago watching his three primary targets test the NBA waters. Pope was reportedly in attendance to watch Chaz Lanier from North Florida and Wooga Poplar from Miami who both took part in the G-League Elite Camp prior to the NBA Draft Combine this week.

Now, he’s back watching his former player, Jaxson Robinson, the Big 12 sixth-man of the year who led his BYU Cougars averaging 14.2 points a game last season, participate in the Combine. 

Kentucky received positive news when neither Lanier nor Poplar were selected from the Elite Camp to participate in the Combine. Despite that setback to their NBA career, neither player has officially announced a return to college basketball in 2024. There could still be interested NBA teams who saw enough at the Elite Camp and are hoping to stash either of those players away and grab them with a second-round selection. 

Robinson, however, is on the big stage in Chicago and on Tuesday, with his former and potentially future coach in attendance, took the floor in a scrimmage for Team Herscu. Robinson started and in 21 minutes scored 10 points on 3-9 shooting with two rebounds, one assist, and one turnover. 

Mark Pope desperately needs a wing scorer to round out this roster in Lexington and while Lanier may be the most preferable and seamless replacement for Antonio Reeves who is excelling in Chicago, any of the three remaining portal targets would turn Kentucky into a true Final Four-caliber team. 

It’s unlikely that more than one of Robinson, Lanier, and Poplar become Wildcats, but with their draft stock seemingly stagnant, it’s also seeming less likely that Pope won’t land one of those highly coveted players. 

Yes, Pope headed to Chicago to support his former player, but if Robinson is forced to delay his NBA dreams by a year, Pope would be more than happy to drive him straight to Lexington. With a $2 million NIL deal reportedly going to former Kentucky target Great Osobor to follow his former coach Danny Sprinkle to Washington, professional basketball is no longer the only way to get paid. 

Kentucky’s roster is nearly complete, so Pope has the luxury of waiting for crucial NBA decisions, but once the combine is officially over on May 19, Pope’s staff and Kentucky’s NIL collective will need to move quickly to ensure that the final remaining roster spots are filled with quality veterans, preferably one of the three the team’s head coach followed to Chicago this week.

dark. Next. Mark Pope's plan for final three roster spots. Mark Pope's plan for final three roster spots