UGA’s Caldwell-Pope to realize his NBA dream

Caldwell-Pope, who left UGA after his sophomore season to enter the NBA draft, is on the verge of reaping the benefits of that decision. He is projected as a lottery pick for Thursday night’s event, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in Brooklyn, N.Y. Caldwell-Pope was one of a reported 13 players invited to attend.

That means that Caldwell-Pope basically is assured of becoming a first-round selection and likely a top 14 — or lottery — pick. And the Bulldogs are beaming.

“It’s a terrific night for Kentavious because his dreams are coming true, and we’re excited about that for him,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “It also shows that at Georgia your dreams can come true.”

Nothing was assured when Caldwell-Pope made the not-very-surprising announcement in April that he was going to turn pro. Despite playing on a Georgia team that went 15-17 and did not have another player average more than eight points per game, the 6-foot-5 shooter was named SEC Player of the Year.

That distinction was because of Caldwell-Pope’s all-around ability. He ranked second in the SEC in scoring at 18.5 points per game, but he also was among the league’s leaders in nine statistical categories, including rebounds, steals and free-throwing shooting.

While people in SEC country were well-aware of Caldwell-Pope’s skills, his announcement created little buzz, and his name rarely appeared on early mock drafts. However, Caldwell-Pope enters draft day slotted 8-to-15 in nearly every projection. The consensus appears to be that he’ll go 10th to Portland.

“A majority of scouts have KCP projected to the Blazers,” Aran Smith of NBAdraft.net said. “Owner Paul Allen even attended a Caldwell-Pope workout, so there’s obvious interest.”

NBA analyst Dan Rubenstein of SB Nation labeled Caldwell-Pope “The Ultimate Sleeper” of 2013 draft.

“Who did Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have around him at Georgia? No one,” Rubenstein said. “What will he have around him in the NBA? Other NBA players. Really his ceiling is a lot higher than we even know at this point.”

Caldwell-Pope could become the seventh UGA player drafted in the first round and possibly its fourth top-10 selection. That’s a far cry from where his journey began.

It was debated until his announcement, and well after, whether he was ready for the NBA. But his stock steadily improved during pre-draft workouts.

“He was able to show people what he could do,” said Thaddeus Foucher, Caldwell-Pope’s Beverly Hills, Calif.-based agent.

Those who know him as KCP already knew.

“You know, I felt like from Day 1 that he was going to be an NBA guy,” said Fox, who recruited the five-star recruit out of Greenville High School. “To give Kentavious the credit he deserves, he was the hardest worker on our team. … He continued to improve and grow, and he has taken that effort and approach into the predraft workouts. Obviously he has shown very well, and we’re very happy for him.”

While Caldwell-Pope’s departure surely will hurt Georgia on the court next season, Fox believes it will be offset by long-term gains.

“If you look at early entries in the NBA draft over the last three years, we’re second to only Kentucky in having guys leave and get drafted,” he said. “So it is something I think we can use to our advantage in recruiting. Every young guy has the dream of going to play at the next level, and you have to be able to prove that you can help players do that.”

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