October 18, 2011

Just wanting to fit in

His high school accolades scream that he's going to be a star. But if you ask Georgia freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, he'd just as soon be one of the guys.

The first McDonald's All-American to wear a Bulldog uniform since Carlos Strong in 1992, Caldwell-Pope averaged nearly 30 points per contest his junior and senior years at Greenville High before signing with Georgia, where he's expected to have a major impact right away for coach Mark Fox's squad.

But in an era where big talk and grandiose statements are often part of the college sports scene, it's a painfully shy Caldwell-Pope who just wants to fit in.

"I just hope I can bring a lot to the team playing my role, playing defense, just helping the team win," he said. "Anything they ask me to do, I'll try to do it."

Fox said Caldwell-Pope isn't kidding and couldn't be more sincere when he talks about just wanting to fit in.

"He just wants to be on the team and help the team win. He and I have had some conversations about dealing with all the notoriety that comes with all the accolades that he's earned, so he can't be ashamed of his accomplishments," Fox said. "The attention kind of comes with the territory and ultimately he'll learn how to deal with that. But he wants to be just part of the team and that's part of the reason the guys have taken him in so well."

His teammates certainly agree.

Senior guard Dustin Ware said the freshmen has come in and done "everything he's been asked to do" and based on what he's seen in the gym, the 6-foot-5, 200-pounder is "as good as advertised."

"The thing about him is he's a very humble kid. He doesn't act like a kid that carries as many accolades as he does. He's extremely coachable and I think that's one of the reasons his teammates have welcomed him with open arms," Fox said. "He's just quiet kid who wants to be a part of a good team and they appreciate that. But you do recognize his ability when he plays, and that's not too hard to see."

Caldwell-Pope admits all the attention can be overwhelming.

"I'm still nervous about it," he said. "But whatever happens, happens."

Sophomore Marcus Thornton knows a little bit about what he's going through.

As a freshman, Thornton dealt with his own expectations as one of the state's top players his senior year at Westlake High.

"He'll be fine. Kentavious will just keep doing what he's doing because he's an extremely talented player who does a lot of things well. He'll learn," Thornton said. "It's not easy when you have to deal with a lot of hype, but he'll be fine. He's a good guy."

Fox explained there's a big different between Caldwell-Pope's hometown of Greenville compared to a college town as diverse and unique as Athens.

"Kentavious is from a small community. It's a no stop-light town, a great community," Fox said. "It's an adjustment. It's bigger, more folks and a brighter spotlight shining on him."

But it was Athens where Caldwell-Pope felt he would be able to spread his wings - both on the court and off, although he could have signed with basically any program he desired.
"To me, it was close to home, my family can get to see me play, a great campus with great academic support," he said. "This is where I wanted to be."

With basketball practice now in full swing for the Bulldogs, getting Caldwell-Pope acclimated to the college game is now going full tilt.

Now, just finding the right spot on the floor for him is Fox's main goal.

"Kentavious is actually taller than Travis (Leslie) and so if he ends up in the three spot some, you guys (media) may consider it to be three guards. I think he naturally fits there and I think you'll see him at times over at the two spot also, but I also think we have some versatility," Fox said. "Marcus Thornton can play a couple of different positions, so Kentavious will bounce around little bit, Dustin and Gerald (Robinson Jr.) are interchangeable, so I think you can see us do some versatile things with this lineup."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]