ATHENS - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has entered the NBA draft and will sign with an agent, ending his Georgia career and dealing a severe blow to the school's men's basketball team.
Caldwell-Pope was the SEC player of the year this past season, and with him the Bulldogs would have entered the 2013-14 season as a contender in the SEC. But without him the Bulldogs will now face another uphill battle to make the NCAA or NIT tournament.
“I want to thank the University of Georgia for all it has done for me,” Caldwell-Pope said in a statement released by the team. “I want to thank my coaches, teammates and fans for the love and support.”
Caldwell-Pope's family requested that the player not be made available for further comment, according to UGA.
"I think he really wrestled with it, and I think it was really hard for him," head coach Mark Fox said, according to audio provided by UGA sports communications. "He had great support from his family. I think he went back and forth some. He took his time. He took his time. But it wasn't easy. ... He's got an opportunity to pursue his lifetime dream, so he's decided to do that."
The opinions on Caldwell-Pope's draft stock have varied: ESPN.com analyst Chad Ford referred to him as a "big time sleeper" after Caldwell-Pope declared on Monday. The web site DraftExpress.com had him ranked as the No. 31 overall available prospect. But another web site, NBAdraft.net, on Monday was projecting Caldwell-Pope to go 17th overall.
"I think that we spoke to I'm gonna guess in the ballpark of 25 of the NBA teams," Fox said. "We have the official information from the NBA, which I think polls 20 teams. And he obviously got lot of positive feedback. And so we were very diligent, and got as much information as we could directly from NBA people."
As for Fox and his team, they now have to move on without the best player the program has had in some team.
Caldwell-Pope led Georgia in both scoring (18.5 points per game) and rebounding (7.1 per game), as well as steals (65 for the season.) He was the first Georgia player to be SEC player of the year since Dominique Wilkins.
"We recruited with the eye that this may happen," Fox said. "Kenny Gaines I thought came here and had a lot of really good moments. Certainly he has a big opportunity in front of him. We signed Juwan Parker in the fall knowing that this was a possibility. If Kentavious had stayed it would have put us three-deep at that spot, but we knew this was a very likely possibility. So we'll have those two guys that can play there. But it does leave us very young in the backcourt again, there's no way around it. We're losing a great player, and a very productive player."
The Bulldogs will at least return six of their top eight scorers, including point guard Charles Mann, who made the SEC all-freshman team in 2013. Guard Kenny Gaines and small forward Brandon Morris, fellow members of last year's recruiting class, also have potential. Forward Nemanja Djurisic, the team's second-leading scorer at 7.9 points per game last year, will also return, along with forward Donte' Williams, a rising senior.
But Georgia still lacks a true low-post presence, and now the departure of Caldwell-Pope leaves an even bigger hole on the roster.
Georgia is coming off a season in which it went 15-17 overall and 9-9 in the SEC. It was the fifth losing season in the past six for the program, and the third in Fox's four seasons.
Caldwell-Pope represented 30.4 percent of Georgia's points this past season. His departure means the team is set to return just under 52 percent of its scoring off of last year's team.
"The challenge now will be to get guys to accept and learn and be comfortable in roles that are bigger than would have been had he returned to school," Fox said. "There's going to have to be growing up on the job."