ATHENS, Ga. — The NBA Draft put Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the Motor City and in more rare company for a Georgia player.
When Detroit selected the shooting guard with the No. 8 overall pick on Thursday night, Caldwell-Pope became the second-highest drafted Bulldog in program history behind only Dominique Wilkins, the No. 3 selection of Utah in 1982.
Caldwell-Pope and Wilkins are already the only Georgia players ever to sweep the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Awards.
The 6-foot-6, 204-pound Caldwell-Pope did it as a sophomore and then declared for the draft. That decision paid off when Detroit tabbed him a spot earlier than most expected.
“They’re getting a hard working kid,” Caldwell-Pope said on ESPN after he was selected at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I’m humble. I play both sides of the ball. I’m a great scorer and a defender. I’m just looking to come in and help any way I can.”
Caldwell-Pope became the seventh Georgia player ever drafted in the first round and first since Jarvis Hayes in 2003.
“That young man deserves every bit of this,” Georgia coach Mark Fox tweeted after Caldwell-Pope was taken. “Congrats KCP!”
Caldwell-Pope was seen as a player with the potential to one day reach the NBA before he got to Georgia.
He was the first McDonald’s All-American to go to Georgia directly out of high school since Carlos Strong in 1992.
During his freshman season, Kentucky’s John Calipari called him a “game-changer as a player for their program.” That didn’t translate into reaching the postseason.
Georgia finished 15-17 in both of his seasons, but Fox said “I felt like from day one that he was going to be an NBA guy. To give Kentavious the credit he deserves, he was the hardest worker on our team.
“When you go in the gym, he has been a tremendous worker,” Fox said. “He’s really developed. To further give him credit, we started the year slow last year 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 continue to improve and grow.”
Caldwell-Pope was back in Athens last weekend to visit some college friends and back in his hometown of Greenville to see family.
Kenarious Gates, a high school teammate and cousin who plays offensive line for Georgia, attended a family dinner Sunday.
“To see him come from a small-town like Greenville and to become a great player and a great role model for the young kids…I’m pretty sure it will inspire other kids to work hard,” said Gates, who has known Caldwell-Pope since they were little kids.
Caldwell-Pope averaged 18.5 points and accounted for 30.4 percent of Georgia’s points last season and led the team in rebounding and steals.
“Here’s a guy with deep range, he’s a knockdown shooter and a shooting guard, something that the Pistons need,” said ESPN analyst Jalen Rose. “They haven’t really been able to replace that since Richard Hamilton left. A player that can shoot from multiple shots on the floor and can even come off screens and play off the basketball. This pick makes sense and plus they like his size at 6-6.”
He’ll join a team that finished 29-53 last season, 11th in the Eastern Conference. Detroit already has point guard Brandon Knight, who made 120 3-pointers last season.
The Pistons passed on a local product, Michigan point guard Trey Burke, to take Caldwell-Pope.
“Detroit is getting a terrific basketball player,” Fox said. “He has perfect shooting guard size and the natural instinct to put the ball in the basket. He is a great shooter and scorer but is a far more complete player than most shooters. His ability to rebound is a strength, as is his effectiveness as a defender. Kentavious has great mobility and his speed should be a real asset in the open nature of the NBA game. As most young guys require, he will need some time to learn the NBA game. …He plays the game with great passion and I am certain Pistons fans will love watching him play.”
There were surprises above Caldwell-Pope in the draft when UNLV forward Anthony Bennett was the top pick by Cleveland and Indiana forward/center Cody Zeller went fourth to Charlotte. Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, projected by some as the No. 1 overall pick, slid to New Orleans at No. 6 and multiple reports had him being traded to Philadelphia.
Caldwell-Pope told reporters in New York the day before the draft that he didn’t see himself falling out of the top 10 and certainly not below the top 15.
He was right. He became the fourth lottery pick from Georgia.
“I knew,” Gates said, “one day he would make it.”