ATHENS -- Ryan Blake, the NBAs director of scouting, almost left at halftime of what turned out to be the final game of Kentavious Caldwell-Popes college career.
I was watching that game, and Im like, Man, Im waiting for this guy to just take over. Why doesnt he do it? Blake recalled thinking as he watched Caldwell-Pope score just seven points and Georgia trail by 25 at halftime of that game. He was working within the system, doing what the coach had asked him to do. And I was like, OK man Im just gonna leave. I never leave, but Im just gonna 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-Popes 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 impressed scouts enough during workouts and at the NBA combine that he stands to make a lot of money.
Theres a good enough chance that he will be picked in the lottery, or in the first 13 picks, that the NBA has invited Caldwell-Pope to attend the draft in person.
Its rarified territory for the Georgia mens basketball 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-Popes 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 one that he was gonna 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 hes really developed.
We started the year slow last year, but largely due to the fact that he wasnt 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 hes taken that effort and approach into his pre-draft workouts and shown very well. Were very, very happy for him.
It appears, judging by what other analysts have written and by what Blake said, that Caldwell-Popes stock suffered during the season because Georgia struggled. The Bulldogs were 6-7 during the non-conference part of the season before turning things around and going 9-9 in SEC play.
Caldwell-Pope showed off his scoring ability for the Bulldogs, especially his shooting. The native of Greenville 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 Georgias 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, he was a good teammate.
You get all the pieces together and (say), This is a guy thats coachable, great athletic skills. Hes improved his shooting. He can be your defensive stopper, Blake said. I think when you go over all the evaluations and see whats there in the draft, you say this guy has gotta be picked where hes gonna be picked, and thats in the lottery.