NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Inevitably, the NBA questions have started for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
On Tuesday, Georgia’s high-scoring sophomore guard became the first Bulldog to be named player of the year by the SEC coaches. On Wednesday, the line of questioning for Caldwell-Pope in advance of the SEC tournament was heavy on the NBA.
“Right now I’m not even trying to think about that because I still have games to play, and my team needs me,” said Caldwell-Pope, the SEC’s second-leading scorer at 18 points per game. “So I’m just really focused right now on my teammates.”
Caldwell-Pope will have a make a decision soon. The NCAA declaration deadline for underclassmen to enter the NBA draft is one week after the NCAA tournament concludes April 8. The NBA’s deadline is the end of April.
Georgia coach Mark Fox said he has been through the process of advising an underclassman for the NBA draft “nine or 10 times.” His most recent encounter was two years ago with Georgia’s Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins, and that didn’t go well.
Both Thompkins and Leslie left UGA early, and neither was taken in the first round. That’s important because only first-round draftees receive guaranteed contracts. Both were chosen by the Clippers, Thompkins with the 37th pick overall and Leslie with the 47th.
“The key is that you get accurate information for that decision,” Fox said. “This is Kentavious’ decision. He’ll do what is best for him. It’s not about anybody else other than that. It’s not about Georgia. It’s not about his family. It’s about him.”
Caldwell-Pope’s early projections aren’t great. NBAdraft.net projects him as the 30th pick, which is the last of the first round. ESPN’s Chad Ford has him 31st, and Draftexpress.com does not include him at all.
Caldwell-Pope insists he hasn’t looked at any of them and is not sure if or when he will. “I really haven’t gone through the process, so I don’t know too much about it,” he said. “I’m just waiting to weigh my options.”
KCP ‘looks like a pro’: Caldwell-Pope was somewhat of a rarity when it comes to being selected player of the year in that he doesn’t play for one of the league’s top teams. But Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said voting for Caldwell-Pope was an easy decision for him.
“I think he’s the best player in the league,” Stallings said. “He’s great on offense; he’s great on defense. … Mark might get mad at me for saying this, but he looks like a pro when he plays. He can jump up and shoot, shoots jump shots off the dribble. He can get to the basket. He shoots it from deep. He guards you. There’s just nothing that kid is not good at on a basketball court, in my opinion.”
UGA eyes the NIT: Georgia (15-16, 9-9 SEC) would need to win the SEC tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament. But it’s less clear what the Bulldogs might have to do to get into the NIT.
The Bulldogs need to win two games — which would include an upset of top-seeded Florida — to guarantee themselves a .500 overall record. But in 2006 the NIT waived its .500-record requirement.
Athletic director Greg McGarity confirmed Wednesday that Georgia has filed its paperwork with the NIT and would accept an invitation. However, he said he had not discussed the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament with Fox. No SEC team has played in the 16-team, single-elimination tournament that was created in 2008.
Tornado memories: It was on March 14 three years ago that a tornado struck the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The was during the SEC tournament and Georgia was preparing to play Kentucky at the time.
The damaged Dome was considered an “unfit facility,” and Bulldogs defeated Kentucky, Mississippi State and Arkansas in two days at Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum to win the championship. Georgia’s only other SEC tournament title came in 1983.