Former UGA star Kentavious Caldwell-Pope walks off stage after being selected by the Pistons with the No. 8 pick in last week’s NBA Draft.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — After the news conference, after holding up the jersey for the cameras and after sitting next to a franchise legend who gambled on him, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope took a deep breath.
“It hasn’t hit me yet. But I’m starting to feel it a little bit. It really hasn’t hit me,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay relaxed and calm.”
Caldwell-Pope, the former Georgia star, was introduced to a throng of media covering the Detroit Pistons on Friday, a day after being picked eighth overall in the NBA draft. It wasn’t exactly a red-carpet welcome from some fans and media, who wondered why the Pistons didn’t take the local favorite, Michigan guard Trey Burke.
In fact, once a cursory news conference was over, it was Pistons general manager Joe Dumars who was surrounded by media members off to one side. Caldwell-Pope was in much less demand as he stood on the other side.
That was just fine with the shy, soft-spoken Georgia native, who was still grasping the magnitude of his life change.
When he declared for the NBA draft in April, leaving Georgia after his sophomore season, being a lottery pick was a reach. Yes, he had been the SEC player of the year, but his team finished with a losing record, leaving apparently half the NBA skeptical.
“The feedback I was getting was half of the teams had me going first round and half had me going second round. And some had me going late-first, early second,” Caldwell-Pope said. “But taking that feedback and letting it motivate me ... I was coming in with a mindset that I want to move up in the draft. Probably that mindset helped me.”
So did pre-draft workouts, where he impressed teams with not only his shooting ability but also his defense, rebounding and intangibles.
Dumars mentioned several times that he was impressed that Caldwell-Pope “never took a night off” last season, despite playing for a struggling team.
“He brought it every night,” Dumars said.
Dumars and the Pistons kept their interest in Caldwell-Pope a closely guarded secret. Most mock drafts leading up to Thursday night had Minnesota, which picked ninth, grabbing the Georgia star. But Minnesota never had a chance, as the Pistons got him one spot earlier.
Caldwell-Pope visited the Pistons on Monday, when met most of the staff, and they finished the visit by sitting down in Dumars’ office. Dumars told him the team really liked him and was seriously considering taking him.
“I had a feeling I would be back here,” Caldwell-Pope said Thursday.
As he stood on the Pistons’ practice court, banners with legendary names hung above him: Daly, Dumars, Laimbeer, Rodman, Thomas.
It may be a lot for a small-town kid like Caldwell-Pope, who often played before sparse crowds at Stegeman Coliseum.
Dumars talked about how back in the early 1980s he was in the same situation as a rookie as Caldwell-Pope — wide-eyed and unsure of what to expect, and not a well-known name when he was drafted out of McNeese State.
“He came in here (Friday) morning, and he’s oblivious to it right now,” Dumars said. “He doesn’t know.”
The Detroit media kept it easy on him the first day. A couple asked him what he preferred to be called: KCP, Kentavious or Ken, as Dumars referred to him.
“KCP is shorter, but I hear different names every day,” he said, chuckling.
Pressed, he said he’d prefer KCP.
Caldwell-Pope was accompanied to Detroit by his former AAU coach, Tony Adams.
The two have been talking about living arrangements; they’re hoping to find him a place near the practice facility, which is next to The Palace.
The 24 hours after hearing his name announced were a whirlwind. He didn’t leave Barclay’s Arena until midnight.
He hardly bothered sleeping, because he had to get up at 4 a.m. to drive from New York City to Philadelphia. He got two hours of sleep on the drive, and then the flight got delayed.
He was operating on just three hours sleep. But the high of all this happening to him was enough.
“It’s a blessing. I mean, just me leaving school and the feedback I was getting at first, I knew I was taking a risk,” he said. “But I had confidence, I knew I could go into the workouts and I could prove myself. And I did that. It really just helped me.”