Updated:ATLANTA (AP) (AP)
entavious Caldwell-Pope got off to a shaky start.
He was carrying Georgia by the end of the season.
The sophomore guard was named Southeastern Conference player of the year by The Associated Press on Monday, adding to the award he received last week from the league's coaches.
In addition, Caldwell-Pope was a unanimous choice to the AP All-SEC first team, joined by Florida forward-center Erik Murphy, Alabama guard Trevor Releford, Tennessee guard Jordan McRae and Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel.
Florida's Billy Donovan was picked as coach of the year after leading the Gators to the regular-season championship and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Mississippi guard Marshall Henderson, who led the SEC in scoring and quickly established himself as one of the league's most brazen players, was honored as newcomer of the year.
Caldwell-Pope ranked second to Henderson at 18.5 points a game, despite a sluggish start that contributed to Georgia winning just two of its first nine games.
Coach Mark Fox said his 6-foot-5 guard and another sophomore, forward Nemanja Djurisic, "were two of the problems early in the year. Those guys did not play well. They did not play well in November. They didn't finish plays in a percentage that we wanted them to."
But Caldwell-Pope improved his shooting and wound up averaging more than twice as many points as anyone on the team. He also led the Bulldogs in rebounding (7.1) and had seven double-doubles, including a career-best 32 points and 13 rebounds in the final game of the season, a loss to LSU in the SEC tournament.
"He's a great competitor," Fox said. "He embodies what athletes should be. He just competes with a heart of a lion."
The Bulldogs (15-17) failed to claim a postseason berth, leaving Caldwell-Pope to ponder his future. He certainly improved his stock with NBA scouts and could leave early for the draft.
"It's not even on my mind right now," he said. "I'm just trying to stay focused on what I need to do to finish school."
Fox said he will assist Caldwell-Pope in this "career and life-changing decision," but stressed that the ultimate call goes to the player.
"This is Kentavious' decision. He'll do what's best for him. It's not about anybody other than him," Fox said. "It's not about Georgia, it's not about his family, it's about him."
In what was a down year for the SEC, Donovan made sure that Florida had another successful season despite some nagging injuries. The Gators (26-7) will face Northwestern State in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Austin, Texas, on Friday.
Florida was just one of three conference teams to make the NCAAs, along with tournament champion Ole Miss and newcomer Missouri.
"There's going to be turnover. There's going to be bumps in the road," Donovan said, remembering how the Gators needed a couple of years to rebuild after winning two straight national championships in 2006 and `07. "It's hard to recover quickly."
But there haven't been many bumps since Donovan arrived in Gainesville in 1996. He turned the football school into a basketball powerhouse that has 15 straight 20-win seasons, 13 NCAA appearances and three trips to the Final Four.
Henderson, a 6-2 junior, has bounced around since high school. He started his college career at Utah, but transferred to Texas Tech after his freshman season. He never played for the Red Raiders, leaving when coach Pat Knight was fired. Last season, Henderson played at South Plains College, leading the team to a perfect record and junior college national championship.
Once he arrived in Oxford, Henderson became a favorite with the home fans -- and perhaps the most vilified player through the rest of the SEC with his brash antics. For instance, while helping the Rebels upset Florida in Sunday's SEC tournament championship, he celebrated by doing the gator chomp at the opposing fans.
"He's hands-on 24-7," coach Andy Kennedy quipped Monday. "Unfortunately, I don't have enough hands sometimes. But I do know him, and I think people who know him know his passion comes from a good place."
Still, it's clear that Henderson's style isn't for everyone. Despite an SEC-leading 20.1 points a game, he was passed over by the league's coaches for a spot on the first team. He also missed out on the AP's first team, settling for a spot on the second unit.
There's no denying the impact he had on the Rebels, though.
"He's a quick shooter. He makes hard shots. He's a gamer," Kennedy said. "But the Marshall Henderson phenomenon, even I'm taken aback by that. It's like traveling with the Beatles. It's crazy, honestly. He's a kid that for the most part has handled it well. That passion comes from a great place. He cares more than you can imagine. But sometimes he crosses the line."
Murphy landed on the first team after averaging 12.6 points a game while leading the SEC in 3-point percentage (.456). Releford was fifth in scoring (15.4) and third in field goal percentage (.489). McRae was fourth in scoring (16.0) and ranked among the top 10 in both field goal and free throw percentage. Noel nabbed the final spot on the first team despite a season-ending knee injury that limited him to 24 games. The freshman averaged 4.4 blocks per game, by far the best figure in the league, and also was among the leaders in rebounds and steals.
Noel's injury was a big reason Kentucky was denied a spot in the NCAA field, one year after winning the national title.
In addition to Henderson, the second team included Texas A&M guard Elston Turner, Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes, LSU forward Johnny O'Bryant III, Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway, and Missouri guard Phil Pressey.
The 65th annual AP All-SEC team was selected by a 13-member regional media panel.