ATHENS, GA (WTVM) - He's the highlight of this year's Georgia Basketball team. Greenville native Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is living up to the hype.
"He has had a really good start to his career," said Georgia head coach Mark Fox. "He's been a very productive freshman. We felt like he'd be an impact player and that's what he's been."
Pope is one of two players to start every game this season. He leads the Bulldogs in minutes (667), points (293), three-pointers (46), defensive rebounds (77) and steals (37). He's the first UGA freshman to lead the Dawgs in scoring since Jumaine Jones, who averaged 14.7 points during the 1997-98 season.
His performance has garnered attention from more than Georgia. Kentucky head coach John Calipari praised Pope: "I'm telling you, he's one of the best in our league and forget about class," Calipari said. "He's a game-changer as a player for their program.''
But, even as a freshman Pope doesn't feel pressure to carry the team.
"Sometimes I feel that way, sometimes I don't," Pope said. "I just come to practice, work hard and try to help my team."
"There's more pressure on him this year because some guys left early to go to the NBA but it shouldn't feel like it's pressure," said Fox. "It's just having to do more than most freshman are asked to do and I think he's handled it quite well."
Pope said he wished he could help the Bulldogs more right now. He started off the season scoring double digits in his 14 of the first 15 games including the first ten of the season. Lately he hasn't hit double figures, scoring only nine against Tennessee, seven against Kentucky and six Wednesday at Auburn.
"He's not plateaued he's just seeing the focal point of other teams' defense," Fox explained. "He's had to play a ton of minutes this year and when he goes into games the other teams are trying to stop him and he'll continue to adjust and improve and develop and get better."
As Pope improves, so does the ability of the Dawgs to attract a supporting cast and raise the team's level of play. Pope is Georgia's first McDonald's All American since Carlos Strong in 1992.
"We have to continue to recruit great players and have to come in and play hard and continue to turn everything around," Pope said.
Georgia is in sole possession of last place in the SEC with a 1-6 conference record, 10-11 overall. The Bulldogs play Tennessee at 8pm Saturday, February 4.