UF's Calathes driven to succeed
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 21, 2008 at 11:58 p.m.
Florida coach Billy Donovan offered Nick Calathes a scholarship when Calathes was a sophomore in high school. In reality, the first recruiting pitch came even sooner.
Calathes was 10 when his father, John, approached Donovan at an Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex. John Calathes asked Donovan to speak to his son's team, which had just won his age group's championship.
"I expected him to come over, maybe say a few words of congratulations, and that would be it," John Calathes said. "Instead, he spent 15 or 20 minutes talking to the kids about everything, not just basketball. I think that made an impression on Nicky."
With Calathes at the helm as a freshman point guard/forward, Florida is off to a 16-3 start and 3-1 record in Southeastern Conference play.
The 6-foot-6 Calathes has adapted quickly to SEC play, averaging 19.3 points, 6.8 assists and 5.5 rebounds in four conference games.
"I'm just getting used to it," Calathes said. "Each game-by-game, I'll get more used to it, just develop into what I can and can't do as a basketball player."
Calathes scored 11 of his team-high 24 points in overtime against Kentucky, helping Florida avoid a potentially confidence-deflating loss at home to its SEC East rival.
While Calathes' maturation seems quick, freshman Florida forward Chandler Parsons said he expects even more from his former high school teammate at Lake Howell.
"The sky is the limit with him," Parsons said. "He's playing great right now. But I definitely think he can do it, he's a really consistent player and I think we'll see him progress as the season goes on."
Calathes has managed to overcome some physical obstacles — a funky delivery on his shot and a vertical leap that would have some thinking he plays in cement shoes — to succeed early in his career at the college level. Toughness and court vision have helped. Calathes is averaging an SEC-best 5.9 assists per game and is going to the free throw line 8.3 times per game in four SEC games.
"Nick's a good driver," Donovan said. "He's got good vision and he can finish strong to the basket. He creates a lot of help, he uses his body well, he's got a big frame."
Then, there's the passing ability. Calathes has shown that he's not afraid to take chances, throwing a risky bounce pass late that resulted in a Walter Hodge layup down the stretch in a win at Alabama. Some freshmen may have opted for the safer play.
John Calathes said that he believes Nick's confidence comes from being the youngest of five brothers and step-brothers. Nick's older brother, Pat Calathes, is a senior 6-10 forward at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia.
Together, the brothers played on a basketball halfcourt behind the family's home in Casselberry, a suburb east of Orlando. Nick was 5 when he and his older brothers poured the concrete for the court and made handprints, drawing their names next of their hands.
"Nicky always had to earn everything he had," John Calathes said. "He started very young. Through competition, he gained respect. And he never backed down. Even if he lost, he was back on the court."
Donovan said he has no plans to tinker with Calathes' shot, which is more of a set shot than a traditional jump shot with elevation. For the season, Calathes is shooting 42.8 percent from the floor, 73.8 percent from the free throw line and 37.5 percent from 3-point range.
"He gets away with it because of his size, and his ball-handling skills enable him to get it off," Donovan said.
Though Calathes has yet to dunk in a college game, family members and teammates insist that he can dunk. In the second half against Kentucky, Walter Hodge threw what looked like an alley-oop pass that Calathes couldn't get up to slam down.
"My vertical leap I think it's about 24, 25 inches," Calathes said. "I was surprised (when Hodge threw the pass). I wish I could fly. I would have had that."
"I've seen him dunk before," Parsons said. "I don't know if you'll ever see him do it in a game. He can definitely dunk."
"Maybe in an exhibition game," John Calathes said.
For now, Calathes is working on perfecting details. He's spent time in the film room
with Donovan, one-on-one sessions that emphasize the sound pass is mostly more efficient than the spectacular one. After committing five turnovers in his SEC debut against Alabama, Calathes has committed six turnovers in his last three league games.
"I think I've settled down a little bit," Calathes said. "Just watching game film, letting the game come more to me."
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