According to the latest census figures available, fewer than 900 people live in Greenville, Ga. One of them became a millionaire Thursday night.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a sophomore at the University of Georgia, was selected by Detroit Pistons with the eighth pick of Thursday night’s NBA draft in Brooklyn, N.Y. He becomes the seventh Bulldogs player in history to be selected in the first round and the third to be taken among the first 10 players.
“(The Pistons) are getting a hard-working kid,” Caldwell-Pope told ESPN’s Shane Battier during his post-selection interview. “I’m humble. I play both sides of the ball. I’m a great scorer and defender. I’m just looking to come in and help any way I can.”
“KCP,” as he became known during his two years in Athens, burst on the basketball scene as a high school player in the tiny hamlet 55 miles southwest of Atlanta. He became a McDonald’s All-American there before signing with UGA as a 5-star prospect.
Caldwell-Pope earned SEC player of the year honors with the Bulldogs this past season. He ranked second in the SEC in scoring at 18.5 points per game, but he also was ranked among the league’s leaders in nine statistical categories, including rebounds, steals and free-throwing shooting.
“That young man deserves every bit of this,” Georgia coach Mark Fox tweeted out immediately after the selection. “Congrats KCP!”
Caldwell-Pope worked his way up from a borderline first-round projection into the NBA lottery with strong showings in pre-draft workouts. Only Dominique Wilkins (No. 3) has gone earlier.
Eighth was the best projection out there for Caldwell-Pope in the plethora of mock drafts published online. Among those he was slotted anywhere from No. 8 to 26. But both Minnesota and Portland, who were picking ninth and 10thm respectively, reportedly were set to take him, according to ESPN’s television analysts.
Georgia football player Kenarious Gates grew up with Caldwell-Pope and played basketball with him at Greenville High. The two spent time together in Athens this past weekend.
“I can’t imagine how he feels right now,” said Gates, a senior at Georgia. “When we go home, all those little kids look up to him. So I feel like this will be inspiring to other kids at home in Greenville. ‘OK, Ken can do it and we came from the same spot.’ He’s already motivated them to do right in school and work hard because you never know. They could have the same opportunity he got.”
Caldwell-Pope became the first Bulldog since Wilkins in 1981 to sweep the major Southeastern Conference Player-of-the-Year awards this past season. In his final collegiate game, he scored a career-high 32 points against LSU in the SEC Tournament. That total made him the 43rd player in UGA history to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career.
“Years ago Kentavious shared with me his dream of playing in the NBA,” Fox said in an emailed statement. “Tonight it came true. We are very excited for him and proud he chose to spend his college years at Georgia.
“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. But he is a worker and I am sure he will keep his great approach to development in the NBA. Kentavious is a very soft spoken young man with a huge heart. He plays the game with great passion and I am certain Pistons fans will love watching him play.”
2013 — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — Detroit — 9th
2003 — Jarvis Hayes — Washington — 10th
1999 — Jumaine Jones — Atlanta — 27th
1990 — Alec Kessler — Houston — 12th
1988 — Willie Anderson — San Antonio — 10th
1984 — Vern Fleming — Indiana — 18th
1982 — Dominique Wilkins — Utah — 3rd