The NBA draft sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the Motor City and left him 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.
“My heart is just racing right now,” Caldwell-Pope told reporters at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. after he was selected. “I’m happy I got selected eighth overall in the first round by Detroit. Right now I’m proud of myself, man, and I’m just proud my family is proud of me as well.”
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!”
The No. 8 pick is due to make $2.21 million in the first year under the NBA rookie salary scale and $2.31 million in the second year, according to hoopsworld.com.
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. He’s really developed.”
Caldwell-Pope was back in Athens last weekend to visit 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.
The Pistons brought Caldwell-Pope in on Monday for a dinner with director of basketball operations Joe Dumars and others, according to the team’s website. He didn’t workout due to a slight hamstring injury.
“He had to carry a huge load with his program down at Georgia,” Dumars told the website. “One thing we liked about him is that he knew he couldn’t take any nights off with his team and so he brought it every night.
The pick made sense for the Pistons, said ESPN analyst Jalen Rose.
“Here’s a guy with deep range, he’s a knockdown shooter and a shooting guard, something that the Pistons need,” Rose said. “They haven’t really been able to replace that since Richard Hamilton left.”
He’ll join a team that finished 29-53 last season, 11th in the Eastern Conference. Detroit already has combo guard Brandon Knight from Kentucky, who Caldwell-Pope said he knows from their AAU days.
“They’re getting a hard working kid,” Caldwell-Pope said on ESPN. “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.”
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 in a statement put out Thursday night. “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.”
Here are some reactions from the Twitterverse:
That young man deserves every bit of this. Congrats KCP!
— Mark Fox (@coachmarkfox) June 28, 2013
— NBA (@NBA) June 28, 2013
— Todd Gurley II (@TG3II) June 28, 2013
S/O to KCP going 8th overall to the Pistons… #DawgsOnTop
— Keith Marshall (@Truthh4) June 28, 2013
Pistons take Kentavious Caldwell-Pope…it's also apparently a good year to be a Pope.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 28, 2013
— Detroit Pistons (@detroitpistons) June 28, 2013
Congrats to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope! Welcome to Detroit!
— Kim English (@Englishscope24) June 28, 2013
I remember the 1st time I saw Kentavious Caldwell-Pope aka KCP play; It was obvious he was special that night. pic.twitter.com/FDZjGzAq2j
— Dean Legge (@Dawg_Post) June 28, 2013
— Rennie Flomo Curran (@RennieCurran53) June 28, 2013