A "Quiet" 44 For UF Commit Nick Calathes

WINTER PARK --- He is 16 years old, still just a junior in high school and expecting another growth spurt just like the one that took his older brother Pat to 6-10. He keeps waiting for his wiry 6-5 frame to start filling out with some much needed muscle. The freckles and braces give Nick Calathes the look of a typical gangly teenager but certainly not a basketball scoring machine.

(Nick Calathes profile)

But a scoring machine he is and he does it with such quiet efficiency that no one is ever certain how many points he got until they check the scorebook after the game.

"I asked his grandfather if he got 27 or 28 tonight," said Jason Williams, the former Gator point guard whose job these days is to keep Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O'Neal happy for the Miami Heat. "When he told me 44 it blew me away."

Williams wasn't the only one who was blown away Thursday night. The Auburndale Greyhounds had all the Nick Calathes they could handle and then some. The junior shooting/point guard who is firmly committed to the University of Florida scored 37 of his 44 points in the second half including 10 in overtime to lead Lake Howell to an 84-73 regional quarterfinal victory. The point total is spectacular but the way they were scored was so much within the framework of the game that this was an almost quiet 44. There were no rim-rattling dunks and three-balls weren't falling like rain drops from the heavens. He just scored. Quietly. Efficiently. Like a baby-faced assassin.

"It's like that all the time," said Lake Howell assistant coach Steve Kohn, whose son Reggie is the head coach for the Silver Hawks. "We'll finish a game and Reggie and I will think he had 21 or 23 or something like that and we'll find out he had 35 or 40. Even that game earlier this year when he had 50, we thought he had scored maybe 30. We wondered where he got all the points when we saw the box score.

"He's a great scorer but he does it within the framework of the offense and the flow of the game. He doesn't hog the ball and he doesn't take wild, crazy shots."

Thursday night Calathes knocked down 16 of his 27 shots including three of seven from three-point range. Throughout the game and especially in the first half, he passed up open shots to get the ball to his teammates. He struggled to get an offensive rhythm in the first two quarters, particularly in the second when he scored just two points and missed his final four shots.

"I really played like crap in the first half," said Calathes, whose brother Pat plays for St. Joseph's. "I just couldn't get it going but I knew I had to step it up in the second half to help my team. I was really letting them down."

He had seven points, five rebounds and three steals in the first half, decent numbers, but certainly nothing close to what he normally does. He did some soul-searching during the break and came out determined to get his game untracked.

He started the second half with a pull-up jumper from 12 feet and then posted up Auburndale's shorter point guard for a little turnaround that also got him to the line where he was able to complete a three-pointer the old fashioned way. He followed that up by starting two fast breaks with his defense and finishing them with layups at the other end. By the time the third quarter ended, Calathes had 23 points but the Silver Hawks still couldn't shake free from Auburndale.

He followed that up with an 11-point fourth quarter but four Lake Howell turnovers in the final three minutes helped Auburndale get a 67-67 tie at the end of regulation. Calathes went 4-5 from the floor in the fourth quarter including a three-pointer. He hit a pair of free throws with 50 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the score at 67-67 and send it into overtime. Calathes scored 34 points in regulation.

Once in overtime, Calathes got the Silver Hawks out to a five-point lead with a driving layup and a three pointer. Lake Howell forced a turnover at the 2:03 mark and Auburndale was forced to foul. From there it became a steady parade to the foul line that sealed Lake Howell's 24th win of the season and a trip to the regional semifinals at home next Tuesday against Tampa Wharton.

The final numbers for Calathes were impressive: 16-27 from the field including 3-7 on three-pointers, 9-11 from the foul line, 10 rebounds, seven steals, one blocked shot and two assists. It was a typical game for him in that he found ways to fill up every category in the box score.

"I'll do whatever the team needs me to do," said Calathes, who scored 10 points on the fast break and another 10 just working himself free on the baseline to take passes that he converted into easy layups. "I just try to play within the offense but I think our team is at its best when we're going up and down the floor in transition. I think that's where I probably play my best."

It is in the transition game that he's close to unstoppable. He's already an outstanding ball handler and it's easy to see that he could play either shooting guard or the point at the next level. When he's dribbling the ball in open space in the transition game he has that extra gear that allows him to burst ahead or through defenders. Surprisingly, for a 16-year-old, he rarely gets out of control in transition so if there is no advantage on the break he will pull the ball out and wait for his teammates to set up in the half court game.

He had only two assists Thursday night but those numbers would have been better if teammates had held onto his passes on the break. He lost at least six assists due to dropped passes and Auburndale fouls foiled at least four other assists.

"The sky's the limit for him," said Williams. "He's got the game and he's only going to get better. He's about as impressive a kid as you're going to see."

Steve Kohn, who has been coaching high school basketball 32 years including 19 in Florida, says Calathes is a gold mine of untapped potential.

"I don't think he's anywhere near as good as he can be or is going to be," he said. "He's a hard working kid who has a real desire to improve. There's no question in my mind that if he keeps working as hard as he's always worked, he's going to keep on improving in every phase of his game."

Back in the summer during the AAU season, Calathes committed to the Florida Gators and Coach Billy Donovan. That commitment is solid as a rock.

"I wouldn't care of Duke called me today, I'm a Gator," he said. "I love Coach Donovan and I love the guys he has on the team. I've known Taurean (Green) awhile since my brother played with him on an AAU national championship team. I can't wait to get up there and play with Taurean, Corey (Brewer), Al (Horford), Joakim (Noah) and those guys.

"They'll all be seniors when I'm a freshman and I hope we're going to win a national championship together."

He said he loves the atmosphere at the O'Connell Center on game day and the way the Gators get the crowd going with their fast paced style of play.

"It's the way Coach Donovan likes to play that really got me interested in Florida," he said. "He likes that full court press, up and down game. I think he's a great coach and his style is a good fit for me. I really can't wait to play for the Gators. The guys up there who are my future teammates are my friends. I want to play on the team with those guys. No way I would break that commitment."

Playing for the Gators will have to wait one more year, though. Meanwhile, there are still some hurdles to clear on the road to a state championship and that is the first priority. Tuesday night against Wharton will be the next step for the Silver Hawks and the next step on a journey that is transforming the skinny kid from Lake Howell into a Florida legend.

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