Strong performance in last game boosted Caldwell-Pope's draft standing
By Seth Emerson
ATHENS, Ga. -- Ryan Blake, the NBA's director of scouting, almost left at halftime of what turned out to be the last game of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's college career.
"The team he played on just didn't gel well," Blake said. "I think he was able to show in his last two years some of the versatility that he has. On the defensive end I think he's a motivated worker. He improved his shooting, the ability to rebound as a guard."
"I was watching that game, and I'm like: 'Man, I'm waiting for this guy to just take over. Why doesn't he do it?'" Blake recalled thinking as he watched Caldwell-Pope score just seven points, and Georgia trail by 25 at halftime. "He was working within the system, doing what the coach had asked him to do. And I was like, OK man I'm just going to leave. I never leave, but I'm just going to leave after the half, go get something to eat.
"And then he took over that game."
Georgia still lost that game to LSU, but Caldwell-Pope's 32-point performance, on the heels of being named the SEC Player of the Year, helped propel his stock enough that he decided to turn pro after two seasons at Georgia.
And in the ensuing two months, Caldwell-Pope (Greenville High) impressed scouts enough during workouts and the NBA combine that he stands to make a lot of money.
There's a good enough chance that he will be picked in the lottery, or the first 13 picks, that the NBA has invited Caldwell-Pope to attend the draft in person.
It's rarified territory for the Georgia men's basket
ball program, which last had a player go in the lottery in 2003, when Jarvis Hayes was No. 10 overall. Several mock drafts have Caldwell-Pope going higher, such as No. 9 to Minnesota.
Georgia head coach Mark Fox has gone from treading carefully on the subject of Caldwell-Pope's future, during the season when Fox hoped he could keep the player around, to now celebrating it.
"It does not surprise me, because I felt like from Day 1, that he was going to be an NBA guy," Fox said. "I think to give Kentavious the credit he deserves, he was the hardest worker on our team. And when you go in the gym, he is a tremendous worker, and he's really developed.
"We started the year slow last year, but largely due to the fact that he wasn't playing as well. He was very willing to look himself in the mirror, become a much more efficient player the second half of the season, and continued to improve and grow. And I think he's taken that effort and approach into his pre-draft workouts and shown very well. We're very, very happy for him."
It appears, judging by what other analysts have written and Blake said, that Caldwell-Pope's stock suffered during the season because Georgia struggled. The Bulldogs were 6-7 during the non-conference part of the season, before turning it around and going 9-9 in SEC play.
Caldwell-Pope showed off his scoring ability for the Bulldogs, especially his shooting. The native of Gainesville averaged 18.5 points per game as a sophomore, and did so with a solid field goal percentage (43.4).
But it was his overall game that apparently took his NBA stock to another level. He was Georgia's leading rebounder last season, averaging 7.1 per game, despite being a 6-foot-5 shooting guard. His defense improved, notching 64 steals and 32 blocks, and from all accounts was a good teammate.
"You get all the pieces together and (say): This is a guy that's coachable, great athletic skills. He's improved his shooting. He can be your defensive stopper," Blake said. "I think when you go over all the evaluations and see what's there in the draft, you say this guy has gotta be picked where he's going to be picked, and that's in the lottery."