KCP eager to get 2nd season going: ‘I just feel great’
Richard Rowe (NBAE/Getty)
At tipoff the night of April 16, 2014, Kevin Durant couldn’t have picked Kentavious Caldwell-Pope out of the line as the Pistons assembled for that night’s pregame national anthem. By halftime, well …
“KD came in asking who I was” – there might even have been an expletive added for emphasis, or so the story goes – “and (Russell) Westbrook was like, ‘That’s Thad’s guy,’ ” Caldwell-Pope recalls through a grin as his second NBA training camp draws near. “It was funny after the fact. To me, I took it like I was earning my respect in this league, getting my name out there and people figuring out who I am.”
Westbrook told the story to his agent, Thad Foucher, also Caldwell-Pope’s agent, who passed it along.
Caldwell-Pope had a career-high 20 points at halftime and finished with 30, plus six rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot on 5 of 7 3-point shooting. His defense was every bit as impressive. And he finished his night with a breathtaking drive and dunk from the corner that drew a stunned reaction from an Oklahoma City crowd accustomed to the spectacular from Durant and Westbrook.
He might or might not have been the star of Orlando Summer League without the momentum his rousing season finale in Oklahoma City provided. Caldwell-Pope’s rookie season had given him a blueprint of the work he needed to put in over the summer. But, he admits, the results he saw by playing with a combination of assertiveness and looseness in the finale helped fuel his off-season workouts and swell his confidence.
“With that last game, I felt real comfortable and relaxed and just felt like I was playing how I wanted to play,” he said this week after returning to Michigan from his native Georgia, where he trained in Atlanta. “I wanted to carry that over into summer and Summer League. That was really my motivation to get me going. If that game didn’t turn out like that, I still would have been motivated to get back in the gym and work hard for Summer League and toward next season. Either way it went, I was going to motivate myself to get better.”
His elevated confidence was on full display in Orlando, where he averaged 24 points and seven rebounds over five games as the clear standout of Summer League. He started strong and kept it going, game after game, even playing over a sprained ankle suffered at mid-week. Van Gundy turned coaching over to assistant Bob Beyer in Summer League, but he studied every game and offered advice and encouragement along the way.
“I got a lot of great feedback,” Caldwell-Pope said. “He also told me what I was doing well on the court and when I needed to slow down and be patient with certain things. I got great feedback and I just took it in and added that to my motivation to keep working.”
Caldwell-Pope worked out under former NBA guard Dion Glover, a No. 1 pick in 1999 by Atlanta, at Georgia Tech. He also lifted weights regularly with teammate Josh Smith. There’s a third native Georgian on the roster this year – the player with whom Caldwell-Pope will battle for playing time at shooting guard, Jodie Meeks.
“I think we’re going to be good,” Caldwell-Pope said after going through his first workout with Meeks at the team’s practice facility with Beyer leading their drills. “It seems like he’s a great guy. We’re going to get to know each other pretty well.”
Meeks brings proven shooting to a team that desperately needed it. But it takes multiple shooters to really change the complexion of an offense. Van Gundy also added Cartier Martin, D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler, but Caldwell-Pope also anticipates he’ll take a jump as a perimeter shooter this season.
“The changes (Van Gundy) is making are good and it’s going to be great for this program,” he said. “We’re going to play well together. We got in early before training camp to get used to each other and we’re starting to get to know each other. I think the chemistry is going to be better.”
This time around, he’s sure enough of himself to help shape that chemistry. If he approached training camp a year ago with nervous anticipation, this time it’s with unbridled eagerness.
“I am looking forward to it,” he said. “Last year, coming in I was nervous. I didn’t know how to play or what to do. Now I feel more comfortable, just getting a year under my belt and going back to Summer League and playing the way I played. So I just feel great.”