Georgia’s do-everything star player is the best in the Southeastern Conference this season.
That’s the view of the league’s coaches, who voted sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the SEC Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-5 Greenville, Ga., native joins Dominique Wilkins in 1981 as the only Georgia men’s basketball players ever tabbed for the award.
“I was really shocked,” Caldwell-Pope said Tuesday. “It’s a joyous feeling just knowing I won it.”
Wilkins was voted SEC Player of the Year by the Associated Press and United Press International wire services. Caldwell-Pope is the first Georgia player selected by the coaches for the honor dating back to when they started naming the top player in 1987.
“It really didn’t surprise me,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “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 is the highest compliment. I’m really proud of Kentavious for earning the award.”
Caldwell-Pope ranks among the league leaders in nine of 13 individual statistical categories kept by the SEC.
That includes being second in scoring (18.0 points per game), third in 3-pointers per game (2.5) and steals per game (2.1), fifth in 3-point percentage (37.1), sixth in free throw percentage (80.9 percent), eighth in rebounding (6.9) and ninth in field goal percentage (43.2).
“He makes shots, he makes big plays, he moves without the ball, but he’s not a guy that just dominates the ball — just dribble, dribble, dribble” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He cuts and moves. They screen for him. They do a good job of that. He scores in transition. He gets some steals. He plays well on both ends of the floor. He gets to the free throw line. He scores in a variety of ways. It’s hard to say this is the one way you can stop him. There may be games where he misses a lot of shots, but you’re not really going to stop the guy because he’s so effective in other areas.”
Caldwell-Pope is one of just nine NCAA Division I players to score in double figures in every game this season.
“The one thing with him that’s so difficult is that he’s not a one-dimensional player,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He can do it a lot of different ways. He can get out in transition and he’s extremely explosive. ... He’s a hard guy to handle.”
Donovan said that Caldwell-Pope probably flew under the radar as a freshman playing in the same class in the SEC as Brad Beal, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who all left for the NBA after their freshman seasons.
Not this year.
“It just makes me proud of myself, just knowing I’ve been doing great the whole season and other coaches and players are seeing that,” said Caldwell-Pope, who thanked Bulldogs coaches and teammates for supporting him.
“He’s the player of the year in the league as a sophomore, and he can get a lot better,” Fox said. “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. ... You don’t reach your peak at this age. You’re not even close.”
Georgia point guard Charles Mann was also named to the SEC All-Freshman team. He started eight games, leads the Bulldogs with 87 assists and is third on the team in scoring at 6.5 points per game.
Caldwell-Pope, though, was the only Georgia player to average in double figures in scoring.
“He’s one of the better players not only in our league,” Donovan said, “but in the country.”