Freshman guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope didn’t take much solace in setting a new career scoring high in Georgia's loss Saturday to Alabama at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga.
The Bulldogs had just lost their SEC opener, after all.
But the young standout admitted his 22 points -- on a 6-for-9 effort from the floor and 7-for-7 from the line -- against the Crimson Tide was another small step in his transition from highly regarded signee to effective college player.
“I’m developing,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I’m still a little sped up, but I’m developing real quick and learning our offense real quick. I’m feeling more comfortable out there every time I play.”
Caldwell-Pope arrived in Athens carrying the burden of immense expectations. The McDonald’s All-American expected to keep the Bulldogs relevant after losing juniors Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie to the NBA and an NCAA tournament trip last season.
Without the two departed stars in the lineup, Georgia already relies heavily on Caldwell-Pope for scoring punch. He leads the team with an average of 14.6 points per game and is third among the Bulldogs with 5.1 rebounds per game, but can still go scoreless for stretches at times.
It’s part of the learning curve that Caldwell-Pope does not have the luxury of experiencing behind the closed doors of a practice gym. The rebuilding Bulldogs need him to learn on the job if they have any hope of competing in the SEC this season.
“Kentavious is a good player. He really is,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox, whose team visits conference heavyweights Florida, on Tuesday, and Vanderbilt, on Saturday. “He’s been thrust into a huge role as a freshman and made some freshman mistakes [against Alabama], and he knows when he makes them. But he’s really grown up on the job and is doing an admirable job doing it.”
That doesn’t mean the process is always fun, however.
It’s somewhat unnatural for basketball to not come easily to the talented freshman. Caldwell-Pope said he is still learning to slow down and wait for the offense to set up, and to work harder on the defensive end.
But as he learns on the job, he is already making an impact, and he expects his progression to continue as he gains experience.
“It’s frustrating a little bit. I try not to let it worry me too much,” he said. “I’m just trying to get it in my head that I’m going to go out here and play hard and do my best.”