The Georgia men’s basketball program suffered a big offseason loss Monday: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the SEC player of the year as a sophomore, departed for the NBA.
Caldwell-Pope decided to enter the NBA draft and forgo his final two seasons of college eligibility, Georgia coach Mark Fox said. Caldwell-Pope plans to proceed with hiring an agent, a move that closes the door on any possibility of reconsidering his decision to turn pro, UGA said.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Greenville, Ga., led the Bulldogs in scoring (18.5 points per game), rebounds (7.1 per game), steals, minutes played and a number of other statistical categories last season. He was the first UGA player since Dominique Wilkins in 1981 to sweep the major SEC player-of-the-year awards and one of just nine Division I players nationwide to score in double-figures in each of his team’s games.
Despite all of Caldwell-Pope’s contributions, Georgia went 15-17, its third losing record in four seasons under Fox, and 9-9 in the SEC. Caldwell-Pope’s decision to leave dims the Bulldogs’ prospects for a breakthrough next season because, ominously, no other Georgia player averaged more than 7.9 points this past season.
Projections are mixed on how high Caldwell-Pope will be selected in the June 27 draft. NBADraft.net ranks him the No. 17 prospect, ESPN’s Chad Ford has him No. 19 and DraftExpress.com pegs him No. 31.
In a statement released by UGA, Caldwell-Pope thanked the school “for all it has done for me” and thanked his coaches, teammates and fans “for the love and support.” He was not available for further comment at the request of his family, according to UGA.
Fox, fielding questions from reporters in Athens, acknowledged the impact of losing his star player but praised the amount of research and thought Caldwell-Pope put into his stay-or-go choice.
“I mean, there’s no way around it. We’re losing a great player and a very productive player,” Fox said, according to an audio file provided by UGA.
This is the second time in three years that Georgia’s program has been hard hit by the NBA draft. Two years ago, the team’s two leading scorers and rebounders — Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie — entered the draft after leading the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament as juniors. Both were drafted in the second round; neither is currently on an NBA roster.
“I think we’re a little bit more equipped for it this time,” Fox said. “But it’s an issue in our game because I think, either last year or the year before, there were 51 guys who thought they were projected to be in the first round. Obviously, there’s not that many spots.”
There are 30 spots in the NBA’s first round.
As for Caldwell-Pope’s draft position, Fox acknowledged he received a range of opinions “from different points in the first (round) to early second, but I’m confident that he’s on solid ground. … This is his decision to make. Our job was to get him the most accurate information we could.”
Caldwell-Pope was the first McDonald’s All-American to enroll as a freshman at UGA since 1992. In his two seasons, he played in 64 games and scored 1,013 points, including a career-high 32 in what turned out to be his final collegiate game: a loss to LSU in the SEC tournament.