Discussing the team’s depth at the preseason media day, Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White singled out freshman Alex Klatsky, his words implying the walk-on was a bonus for the Gators, in a sense.
“We’ve got 14 with Alex Klatsky. So I’m not going to go (into rotations) yet,” White said. “You just never know what’ll happen.”
White’s words were cautious, yes, but he may have been prognosticating; while many scoff at the notion of a walk-on contributing at the Power Five level, Klatsky isn’t your normal walk-on. In fact, according to someone who’s seen him excel both on and off the court over the better part of a decade, Klatsky could more than just go against the grain.
That someone is highly regarded freshman Scottie Lewis, who has since middle school been teammates with Klatsky.
In the eyes of Lewis, who also has been touted by teammates and coaches alike for his intellect and poise since arriving in Gainesville, Klatsky could, simply put, be great.
But for Klatsky, that may require greater devotion towards the latter part of the term “student-athlete”.
“I think the fact that he played behind such great players has kept Alex in the loop. He had a lot to prove, he still has a lot to prove,” Lewis said. “I think his confidence thing is the biggest part of Alex’s game that hinders him. Alex has done the same training as me, he’s been doing it for a longer period of time, so he has the skill-set. His mindset is the only thing that kind of holds Alex back. Dominant ball-handler, he’s a great shooter, confident on the perimeter, and I feel like some of his skill sets he doesn’t show the way he should show. He’s a lot better than people think he is.”
A frank assessment, yet a sign of Klatsky’s potential and priorities.
Although he turned down a scholarship offer to Harvard — the Ivy League college, like Florida, tried to pair he and Lewis — Klatsky hasn’t let his pursuit of a collegiate basketball career limit his academic studies.
“I arrived in June, and it’s been great so far. I’m loving it, working hard,” said Klatsky, who chose mechanical engineering as his major. “It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of studying and homework, but it’s what I’m interested in and what I love learning about.”
Although one could argue that an Ivy League education carries greater weight, academics admittedly wasn’t the only factor in Klatsky’s collegiate decision.
“A lot of my life, I always knew I wanted it to be Florida, and in high school I kind of explored the other options, talked to a lot of coaches and went to a lot of places, but my heart was always Florida,” Klatsky, whose parents both graduated from UF, said. “I grew up a Gator, so when it came to making a decision, it wasn’t a hard one to make.”
Yet as many know, that feeling is rarely reciprocated.
While Klatsky possesses a high quality shooting form, defensive instincts and a high basketball IQ, most recruiting analysts pegged him as lacking the size and agility to play significant minutes at the Power Five level, although his 3-point shooting ability is a coveted aspect regardless of the competition level.
And, considering Florida’s 2019 class was in prime position for a top-10 finish well before Signing Day, it was a long shot for Klatsky to sign with Florida, despite a familiarity with White that extended throughout his high school playing career. Ultimately, White presented Klatsky with an opportunity to make Florida’s roster as a preferred walk-on — a move that would come with some risk, considering the 6-foot-3 shooting guard had scholarship offers on the table, yet one that would see him fulfill a lifelong dream.
“We started talking when we came on campus in freshman year, and I started talking a lot with coach in sophomore and junior year, so we had a long relationship for awhile,” Klatsky said. “This was really my dream. There was really no other place like Gainesville for me. It was just what I always wanted to do. When it came to making the decision, I just thought that was what I wanted to do.”
Klatsky isn’t overstating his early Florida fandom; his first game came five years ago when he traveled to the Bahamas to see the team compete in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, although he has more vivid memories of watching UF’s back-to-back national titles as a second-grader.
“Billy Donovan, all the great years. And then when Coach Mike White got hired, I was very excited to see that, too,” he said.
Klatsky’s background is interesting, considering many seem to believe the misconception he arrived on the coattails of Lewis; their paths may be similar, yet their origins are unique.
The two first met as foes rather than teammates, when Lewis still lived in Georgia and Klatsky’s father, the coach of one of AAU powerhouse Team Rio National, was still early into what would become a notable coaching career on the travel ball circuit.
“They beat us by one. It was a really close game,” Klatsky said of that first match-up with Lewis. “And then I met Scottie the following year when he moved up north, and then we joined forces in AAU, and then we eventually went to Ranney School (NJ) together.”
With his basketball career showing significant promise, Lewis moved into a house owned by the Klatsky’s in New Jersey as he looked to take the next step in becoming a collegiate prospect. What would ensue was the start of a competitive friendship that has translated to the court as teammates, with both Lewis and Klatsky pushing the other all the way to an SEC roster.
“Ever since we really began playing together, we push each other on the court all the time, we push each other off the court to be better students,” Klatsky said. “I’m really glad he’s here with me.
“Scottie loves beating me, I love beating Scottie. It drives us, it keeps us going.”
Although Lewis is in line to start from the jump for the Gators, Klatsky’s role remains to be seen.
As his long-time teammate noted, however, Klatsky’s game has the capability to raise his ceiling, and an opportunity to buck the walk-on stereotype. Until then, he’s prepared to fill the walk-on role for the Gators this season.
“I’m just going to work my hardest every single day, and if coach calls my name, I’m ready to go,” Klatsky said. “Right now, we’re really competitive. This is definitely a team that wants to win, and is putting the team before individual goals. We’re excited.”