ATHENS, Ga. – The SEC’s newly crowned Player of the Year – Georgia’s first since Dominique Wilkins -- did as usual Tuesday.
(Photo by Sonny Kennedy/Special to Dawgs247)
He walked into the same room for interviews before practice, sat in the same seat and when asked he dourly shrugged off another accolade like he has most of the ones in his career.
“It’s just a great feeling,” Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “It’s a great thing to know. I just thank the coaches and my teammates for supporting me on that.”
As he has proven in two seasons with the Bulldogs, Caldwell-Pope can make the most difficult play on the basketball court appear simple. That’s where he makes it sing. There’s little he can’t do out there.
Media, however, has always been a different setting for Caldwell-Pope, a quiet young man who never quite seems comfortable talking about himself.
And yet that’s what awaits Caldwell-Pope – named SEC Player of the Year on Tuesday by vote of the SEC’s coaches -- as he leads eighth-seeded Georgia into this week’s SEC tournament as perhaps the biggest single star in Nashville, Tenn.
So many of the questions will have to do not with his sophomore season as much as whether there will be a junior season.
“I’m not trying to worry about that right now,” Caldwell-Pope said Tuesday when asked about early entry into the NBA Draft. “We’ve got the SEC tournament to worry about. I’ve just got that on my mind right now.”
Caldwell-Pope indicated Tuesday that he will consider the jump and make a decision on possible early entry into the NBA Draft after the season.
He has been telling teammates and coaches that as well.
“He told us he’s going to wait until after the season to let everybody know what he’s going to do,” freshman forward Brandon Morris said, “So we’ll find out shortly. … At the end of the day, it depends on what he wants to do. If he’s ready to go or if he feels he needs to stay and get better and work on his ball-handling a little bit more. But at the end of the day, it’s all on him.”
“This is Kentavious’ life and career we’re talking about,” UGA coach Mark Fox said. “So I take that very seriously. And I’ll make sure that Kentavious has accurate information from the right sources. He has been very focused on his season. We have had conversations about this for the last year. He knows that I will get him that information, and we’ll discuss things at the right time.”
While there is first the conference tournament, the prospect of Caldwell-Pope’s potential departure will naturally weigh heavy on thoughts of next season after’s Georgia promising turnaround in SEC play has raised expectations for 2013-14.
Asked if the way this past season went, with Georgia improving and perhaps being an NCAA tournament contender in the future, would possibly have him wanting to come back, he replied, “I kind of do, because we do have a great team, and we did improve faster than I thought we would. Every day we get better.”
But so much of what is forecast for Georgia next season will obviously have to do with his decision. Just look at the numbers.
Caldwell-Pope was voted the SEC’s Player of the Year while ranking in the top 10 of the conference in at least eight individual categories. Among them, he’s second in scoring (18 points per game), eighth in rebounding (6.9 per game), second in steals (65), second in 3-pointers made (78) and second in minutes (almost 34 per game).
“It really didn’t surprise me,” Fox said of KCP winning Tuesday's honor. “I think he’s had a tremendous year. I did not get to vote for him, because you can’t vote for your own players. I would have voted for him, because I think he’s had that kind of season. But to be recognized by the other league’s coaches, I think, is the highest compliment. I’m really proud of Kentavious for earning the award.”
Fox, however, added: “He’s the player of the year in the league as a sophomore, and he can get a lot better. There’s a lot of things he can improve on. … He’s learning so much, and he’s so much better right now than he was two months ago. He’s going to continue to improve.
“He’s not going to peak as a player until he’s 25 or 26 years old. Most guys don’t.”