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    • SEC "Fast Break": February 26

      Apparently, eight Southeastern Conference teams were having so much fun last Saturday they didn’t want it to end.
    • SEC Fast Break with Chris Dortch

      The first month of the season was largely forgettable for the Southeastern Conference by almost any barometer. Where to start?
    • November Offers Challenges for SEC Teams

      It seems like only yesterday Kentucky players were cutting down the nets in the New Orleans Superdome after winning the Southeastern Conference’s third national championship in a seven-year span. But that was more than seven months ago, and now it’s time for college basketball to crank up again.
    • One on One with Chris Dortch: Marquis Teague

      Was there ever a question Marquis Teague could take his place among the elite point guards coached the last four seasons by Kentucky’s John Calipari? We profile Teague, a likely first round pick in this week's NBA Draft.
    • Instant Reaction: Kentucky Claims Title

      About a month ago, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari asked a question of his team.

    One on One with Chris Dortch: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

    By: Chris Dortch
    SEC Digital Network

    When, after last season, Georgia coach Mark Fox made the decision to move star freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from small forward to shooting guard, he hoped the change would benefit both the player and his team.

    “Playing out of position every night against older, more physical players hurt his productivity,” Fox told Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook last August. “Now that I’ve got him back at his natural position and he’s a year older, he’s probably going to become the guy that’s the face of our program.”

    Little did Fox know then how well the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Caldwell-Pope’s change of scenery would work out. Face of the program? Uh, you could say that. KCP’s name hasn’t turned up among Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Michigan’s Trey Burke, Duke’s Mason Plumlee or Creighton’s Doug McDermott as a national player of the year candidate, but a reasonable argument could be presented that few players in the country are more indispensible to their teams.

    Consider these numbers: Caldwell-Pope is averaging 17.7 points, nearly 10 points more per game than Georgia’s No. 2 scorer Nemanja Djurisic. Only three teams in Division I have a larger disparity between their top two scorers. And even though KCP is on the front page of every opposing team’s scouting report, he’s been a model of consistency. Just 11 players in the country have scored in double figures in every game this season. The only one who resides in the Southeastern Conference is Caldwell-Pope.

    KCP laughs when he recalls the dizzying array of defenses that have been thrown at him this season.

    “Some teams try to knock me off ball screens,” he said. “Some play a box and one. Some try to deny me the ball and not let me even touch it.”

    Sometimes Caldwell-Pope has had to hustle to get to double figures. He was held without a field goal for the first time in his career against Texas A&M, but Georgia still won as KCP went 10 for 10 from the free-throw line.  In consecutive games last week against Arkansas and South Carolina, he was held scoreless in the first half. But he scored 15 in the second half against the Razorbacks as the Bulldogs nearly pulled out a win in Fayetteville, and 18 in the final 20 minutes and overtime against the Gamecocks. His 3-pointer with 8.9 seconds left in the latter game sent it to overtime, where the Bulldogs won.

    Caldwell-Pope was as efficient a scorer as anybody in the country during Georgia’s five-game winning streak that spanned late January and early February. Even though every team the Bulldogs played knew what was coming, they had little luck stopping it. In those five games, KCP averaged 19 points while shooting 63 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range and 91 percent from the free-throw line.

    The soft-spoken Caldwell-Pope downplays his accomplishments so far. Asked to explain how he thwarts all the defensive attention heaped on him every night, he offers a simple explanation.

    “Just being patient,” he said. “Just letting the game come to me. Just taking open shots that they give me. And letting our offense work to my advantage.”
    Fox started early in preparing his young star for what was sure to happen this season.

    “We talked all summer about how he was going to be the focus of every team’s defense,” Fox said. “And he’s really accepted that challenge. We’ve seen a lot of different defenses geared toward him. I think what’s really helped him is he has a pretty versatile game. I don’t think he’s great at anything yet. But he’s really good at a lot of things.”

    SEC statistics support that contention. Caldwell-Pope's name is all over them. He’s second in the league in scoring, ninth in rebounding (6.9 rpg), fourth in steals (2.1), sixth in field-goal percentage (.444), fifth in free-throw percentage (.800), sixth in 3-point percentage (.372), second in 3-pointers per game (2.5), third in defensive rebounds per game (5.8) and second in minutes played (33.8).

    Opposing SEC coaches who have thrown every defense they can conjure at KCP can’t help but be appreciative of his production.

    “He’s tough to defend because of his ability to create his own shot as well as get shots out of their offense,” said Alabama coach Anthony Grant. “He’s explosive in transition. He rebounds, and typically he’s guarding the best player on the other side of the ball as well.”

    “He’s not a watcher,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy. “The thing that I can’t stand sometimes is guys watching the ball. He’s always engaged in the game in all facets.”

    One of those facets is defense. Caldwell-Pope struggled handling bigger stronger players at the three spot last season. That hasn’t been the case now that he’s back at guard.

    “Most nights his defense has been a lot better,” Fox said. “He’d be the first to tell you that he struggled a year ago. Last year the best play was to try and make him defend and get him into foul trouble. That hasn’t been the case this year.”

    No less an appreciator of defense than Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin marvels at how Caldwell-Pope has the energy to play at both ends of the floor.

    “The thing I like about him is he’ll accept challenges on the defensive side of the ball,” Martin said. “He’s not one of the those guys that scores it, but then you’ve got to put him on a guy to try to hide him.”

    Caldwell-Pope has more than lived up to his high school billing. He was the first McDonald’s All-American signed by Georgia since Carlos Strong in 1992. Once the former two-way star decided to de-emphasize football and concentrate on hoops, his trajectory in the latter sport soared.

    Growing up in football-mad Greenville, Ga., it wasn’t easy for Caldwell-Pope to turn his back on football. He was a good enough wide receiver-defensive back to be offered a football scholarship by Georgia. Kentucky wanted him to play both sports.

    “Growing up, football excited me more than basketball,” he said. “We always played football growing up; it was all about football. And I could do some pretty good things on the football field.”

    When it came time to making a choice about what sport to play in college, Caldwell-Pope tried to think logically.

    “Playing Division I football was going to be real tough,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if I could make it playing football. But I felt confident about basketball.”

    And so Caldwell-Pope committed himself. That commitment continues and will eventually earn him a ticket to the NBA. But for now, KCP wants to be as good a college player as he can.

    “He wants to be a complete player,” Fox said. “The appreciation for that is lost in today’s game because there are so many specialists. But that’s not Kentavious. He’s just a naturally competitive kid.”
     



     
     

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    Chris Dortch Bio

    Chris Dortch estimates he’s covered close to 1,500 college basketball games since he was sports editor of his college student newspaper back in the late ’70s. “And it never gets old,” he says. “I always get pumped up to watch college hoops.”

    Dortch came to love basketball growing up in the basketball crazy state of Illinois, watching Missouri Valley Conference and Big Ten games every Saturday and pouring over the sports section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I think I learned how to read a box score before I learned how to read,” he says.

    In college, first at George Mason and later at East Tennessee State, he came under the influence of two coaches that gave him a behind-the-scenes look at basketball from a coaching perspective. “After that I was hooked,” he says. “I knew I wanted to cover college basketball for a living.”

    And so he did, focusing on the Southeastern Conference at four newspapers and then for Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, the famed “bible” of college basketball which Dortch began editing in 1996.

    In a 30-year career, Dortch has written for numerous publications and websites, served as a college basketball correspondent for Sports Illustrated, appeared on more than 1,000 radio shows and written five books, including String Music: Inside the Rise of SEC Basketball.

    Dortch has provided commentary for CSS, Fox Sports South, NBA TV and the Big Ten Network and also taught sports writing at East Tennessee State and Tennessee-Chattanooga, where his students call him “Professor D.”