ATHENS, Ga. — With apologies to the FAA, Mark Fox remembers accepting the important call from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the summer of 2010.
Fox was hoping Caldwell-Pope would become one of Georgia's biggest signees in 20 years. Fox's airplane was rolling down the runway when his cellphone rang.
"I looked down at my phone and I thought 'I better answer this,' so I answered my phone," Fox recalled on Monday.
"This flight attendant was saying 'You have to hang up your phone.' And he said 'I've got good news for you.' I said 'Ken, that's great, thanks for calling.' The flight attendant at this point, she was basically standing over me. I said 'I've got to call you back.' We were actually airborne at the time and I lost the connection. I didn't finish it."
Fox was left to contemplate the call for the remainder of the flight. He said his staff already had used its one allotted weekly call to Caldwell-Pope, so he couldn't call back when his plane landed.
Fox said he waited a few days to hear Caldwell-Pope complete his call.
"Eventually, he called me and said 'I'm coming to Georgia,'" Fox said.
Caldwell-Pope, from Greenville (Ga.) High School, became the first McDonald's All-American to sign with Georgia out of high school since Carlos Strong in 1992. Damien Wilkins was a McDonald's All-American who played two years at N.C. State before transferring to Georgia in 2002.
Fox, Caldwell-Pope and the Bulldogs play No. 1 Kentucky (19-1 overall, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) and its group of talented freshman on Tuesday night.
Caldwell-Pope has provided hope for Georgia as the Bulldogs have struggled to recover from the losses of two NBA draft picks — Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie — from their 2011 NCAA tournament team.
Caldwell-Pope leads Georgia (10-9, 1-4) and is tied for sixth in the league with his average of 14.7 points per game, including a career-high 25 points in Saturday's 66-63 loss to Mississippi.
The freshman also ranks among the league's top 10 in steals, 3-point shooting and minutes.
Caldwell-Pope, a 6-5 guard, has caught the attention of Kentucky coach John Calipari.
"He's a terrific player," Calipari said Monday. "I'm telling you, he's one of the best in our league and forget about class. I think anymore when you start looking at class, you're making a mistake. If a kid can play, he can play, and forget about age.
"These kids are mature. They play against each other. They play all over the country as 10th and 11th and 12th graders. He's a terrific player. He can get his own shots. He's a game-changer as a player for their program."
Fox's team has been slowed by a lack of an inside game and inconsistent outside shooting.
Caldwell-Pope has produced as Fox hoped, even though he has been asked to defend bigger small forwards in Georgia's three-guard lineup.
"We thought he would be an impact player, I really did," Fox said. "We've thrown him into the fire and kept him into the fire more than is probably fair. He's had to move to the small forward because Travis left school early and so now he's playing a different position than he was recruited to play.
"He's having to defend a position where he's a little bit outsized. And he's done it all with zero complaint and has been very productive."
Caldwell-Pope is adjusting to more attention from opposing defenses.
"From the start, I didn't get as much attention as I'm getting now with teams coming to me, trying to keep me from putting up shots," Caldwell-Pope said before Monday's practice. "They're just playing hard on me to try to stop me from scoring."
Fox is telling his players they should relish the nationally televised visit from the top-ranked Wildcats as a rare opportunity.
"How many people get this chance in life, you know?" Fox asked. "How many people get this chance? I never got it as a player. You don't get it real often as a coach. It's just a great opportunity."
Caldwell-Pope said he is familiar with some of Kentucky's talented freshmen, including Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis, from AAU basketball.
"I get motivated because they're the No. 1 team in the country and the guys on their team are guys I played against in AAU," he said. "It's pretty exciting to play against them again. ... Gilchrist is the main one I was always playing against."
Caldwell-Pope said he was recruited by Kentucky but chose to remain with his in-state team.
"He's a wonderful young man and has already made an impact on our team and will continue to," Fox said.
"It is important to recruit the best players to help us win and there's a lot of them in this state."