Rick Pitino accepts Mark Pope's invite for two-game series vs. Kentucky

St. John's head coach Rick Pitino has accepted Mark Pope's invitation for a blue blood matchup between his current program and the Wildcats, led by the latter, who was the team captain of Kentucky's 1996 national championship team.
St. John's v Seton Hall
St. John's v Seton Hall / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

Mark Pope and Big Blue Nation are in the early stages of the honeymoon phase, as evidenced by his introductory press conference in front of a sold-out crowd at Rupp Arena on Sunday.

Excitement is through the roof with the program hiring a former blue blood player and team captain of the 1996 Kentucky national championship team to take over the reins for longtime head coach John Calipari, who is now at Arkansas following yet another stunning upset loss early in March Madness.

Pope sent the Kentucky faithful present in the building on Sunday into a frenzy amid the buzz circulating through Lexington on Sunday when he posed the question: "Anybody here down for a game versus St. John's?"

Word travels fast because Rick Pitino, former Kentucky head coach from 1989-97 and currently assuming the same position at St. John's, took to X (formerly known as Twitter) on Monday morning to address the matter after catching wind of the Pope's offer.

Rick Pitino accepts Mark Pope's invite for a two-game series vs. Kentucky

"Wow, just saw clips from our Captain's press conference. Not shocked, but pleasantly surprised. Would expect nothing less from @CoachMarkPope. Also, @StJohnsBBall accepts, this year at UK, next year at the Mecca!"

Pitino refers to Pope as "our captain" because he was at the helm on the sidelines when the latter played a critical role in the program winning a title in 1996. And it appears that he is open to a friendly competition between mentee and mentor, adding that he is "looking forward to saying goodbye to Kentucky."

After leaving the Wildcats for the NBA in 1997, only to return to the college ranks as coach of the rival Louisville Cardinals, Pitino and the fans of Kentucky have not exactly seen eye to eye.

Many remember when Pitino controversially denied making an obscene gesture on his way out of Rupp Arena following his last appearance in Rupp Arena, highlighting where things may stand between him and Big Blue Nation. However, he seems to be relishing the moment and interested in making amends if his recent comments are any indication.

But as much as Pitino, Pope, Kentucky, and college basketball supporters would love to see this matchup, we are still far from this being a set-in-stone matchup, per Zach Braziller of the New York Post.

Braziller notes that St. John's reportedly is "not close" to finalizing any "major" out-of-conference games, pointing out that the school is prioritizing upgrading the roster via the transfer portal at this stage in the offseason.

Pitino and Pope are not shying away from this potential clash. They would relish being the focal point of this highly anticipated showdown if/when the scheduling is official.

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