Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Georgia Bulldog a pure player
Mississippi guard Jarvis Summers (32) tries to steal the ball from Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) in the second half of their NCAA college basketball game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. Mississippi won 84-74. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
FAYETTEVILLE Georgia Coach Mark Fox has used 12 different starting lineups this season. Eleven Bulldogs have started at least two games.
The one constant has been Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The 6-5 sophomore guard is the only Georgia player to start all 25 games.
“I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I am smart enough to figure out he probably should start the game,” Fox said. “He’s pretty good.”
Caldwell-Pope, who will lead Georgia (12-13, 6-6 SEC) against Arkansas (16-9. 7-5) on Thursday night in Walton Arena, is averaging 17.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 33.7 minutes to rank second, 13th, second and second in the conference in those categories. He’s also shooting 45.3 percent from the field (sixth in the SEC), 37.1 percent on three pointers (fourth) and 80.9 percent on free throws (fifth).
“He doesn’t play like a sophomore,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “He’s doing so much for his team. He’s a guy that can take over a game.”
Caldwell-Pope has led Georgia in scoring 22 times this season, including 24 points against Tennessee, 22 against Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M, 20 against Auburn and 19 against Ole Miss and South Carolina. He’s among 11 players on NCAA Division I teams - and the only SEC player - to score 10 or more points in every game.
“The word I associate with him is efficiency,” Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said. “He’s a guy that’s extremely efficient.
“He’s tough to defend because of his ability to create his own shot as well as get shots out of their offense. He’s explosive in transition. He rebounds, and typically he’s guarding the best player on the other side of the ball as well.”
Fox said Caldwell-Pope, who as a freshman averaged 13.2 points and 5.2 rebounds, has improved dramatically as a defender.
“He couldn’t have guarded me or you last year,” Fox said to a reporter. “He’s worked hard at his defense and he’s a guy now that we trust at both ends.
“I think he knew it was a weakness, that teams were coming right at him. He’s a competitive kid, and he didn’t like that, so he’s really worked at it.
“He wants to be a complete player. That’s very rewarding as a coach, to see a kid who works as hard as he does, and will play as hard as he does on the defensive end.”
Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said he believes Caldwell-Pope is the SEC’s best all-around guard.
“He’s not a watcher - the thing that I can’t stand sometimes is guys watching the ball,” Kennedy said. “He’s always engaged in the game in all facets.”
Frank Martin, in his first season as South Carolina’s coach, said he was impressed watching Caldwell-Pope on tape, then became more impressed watching him lead the Bulldogs to a 67-56 victory at Columbia, S.C.
“I thought, ‘Wow, he is good,’ going into the game, and I went out of the game saying, ‘No, he’s real good,’ ” Martin said. “He’s big, good with the ball, good without the ball. He’s good on defense. He shoots it on the catch. He shoots it on the move. He passes the ball.
“If he was greedy and tried to shoot 25 balls a game, he’d probably be the leading scorer in the conference. But obviously he’s trying to win and not play selfishly.”
Several SEC coaches said they enjoy watching Caldwell-Pope play, as long as it’s against another team.
“He’s a guy that when it’s all said and done, whenever he decides to advance to the next level, he’s going to do it for a long time barring any major injury,” Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He has a tremendous pace to his game, good feel for the game. He doesn’t waste a lot of movement, doesn’t waste dribbles.
“The thing I like about him is he’ll accept challenges on the defensive side of the ball. 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, who turned 20 Monday, was a McDonald’s All-American at Greenville (Ga.) High School playing in a town with a population of about 1,000 located 55 miles southwest of Atlanta.
“He’s from a real small school in a real small town - no stoplights - so he’s had a lot that he’s had to learn,” Fox said. “But he’s been so extremely coachable.
“He just tries to get better every day, and as a good a player as he’s become in many areas, he’s still hungry to get better.”
Up next ARKANSAS VS. GEORGIA
WHEN 6 p.m. Thursday WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville RECORDS Arkansas 16-9, 7-5 SEC; Georgia 12-13, 6-6 TV ESPN2 RADIO Razorback Sports Network
Sports, Pages 17 on 02/19/2013