Calathes committed to the Florida Gators last spring when he had just completed his sophomore year in high school at Lake Howell. Back then everyone was thinking that the Gators had a very good prospect that would probably become a fine college basketball player someday. Even after a high school season that saw him average 26.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.2 steals per game while racking up state player of the year honors in class 5A there were still critics that questioned his ability to take that all-around game effectively to the next level.
In one AAU Tournament after another he's answered all the critics resoundingly, and after a brilliant performance for the 19-and-under US team in France, there are no longer any questions about his game. He's ready for the next level and he still has one high school season left in which he's only going to improve.
"He's got the ability to make everyone around him a better player," said Coach Steve Kohn of Lake Howell last Saturday at Billy Donovan's basketball camp at the University of Florida. "There aren't a lot of kids his age that can do that."
Calathes, whose brother Pat is a 6-10 wing guard at St. Joseph's, has grown to nearly 6-6 and Kohn thinks he won't stop growing until he's 6-7 or possibly 6-8. He's a natural point guard that uses his size advantage to zing no-look, one-hand passes off the dribble to wide open teammates for dunks and easy baskets. His passing is brilliant, but he brings another dimension to the position in that he can score in a variety of ways.
In a state playoff game against Auburndale last year, Calathes scored 44 points, 37 of which came in the second half. Most 44-point games are scoring explosions filled with highlight reel efforts and they involve one player almost hogging the ball. In this game, Calathes was 16-27 from the field including 3-7 on three-pointers and 9-11 from the foul line. He had 10 rebounds, seven steals, one blocked shot and two assists in the game. He probably would have had double figures in assists, too, except that it wasn't a good game for teammates finishing on the break. The Silver Hawks probably blew 10 layups in that game.
Two of the three-pointers were spot-up shots when he got the ball on the perimeter while running the fast break. He scored another eight points on fast break layups. He scored 10 points on back door cuts when he left his defender, took the pass under the hoop and scored. He had nine points from the foul line so he scored only 11 of 44 points when he was actually working with the ball in his hands, looking for a shot in the offense.
That's hardly hogging the ball.
"His dad will ask me how many I think he got after a game," said Kohn, "and I'll say probably 21 or 22 points and his dad will say he thinks that's about right. Then we'll check the scorebook and see he's got 35 or 40 and we just shake our heads. You don't notice how many he gets because he involves everyone else in the offense and he just takes whatever that comes his way."
He admits that he rarely thinks about scoring. Most of the time, when he's got the ball in his hands, he's trying to keep the ball moving because that's the best way to get easy baskets.
"I like having the ball in my hands when we've got everybody moving," said Calathes, who has put on seven or eight pounds this summer to get his weight up to about 183. "When we've got people moving, it's easy to find somebody open for an easy shot. If we're all working together, we should get a lot of easy shots. I try to help my team get a lot of high percentage shots. I think that's what I do best."
Fellow University of Florida commitment Gary Clark, a 6-4 guard out of Sarasota Booker who has played with and against Calathes at camps and in the AAU circuit the past few years, says, "Nick plays a thinking man's point guard. He's always watching what you do so he can learn how to get the ball to you better. If you're open, one thing you can count on is that Nick is going to get the ball to you."
Calathes shoots a funny-looking jump shot that is anything but picture perfect form. It is, however, accurate and effective and because he gets it off with almost a flick of the wrist, he only needs a split second to launch. At Lake Howell, he spends a lot of time on the wing because the Silver Hawks have a buzzsaw, quick point guard in Joey Rodriguez (UMass commit). Calathes is such a good three-point shooter that teams try to keep a defender in his face but that only leaves them vulnerable to his back door cuts to the basket.
"He gets a lot of easy layups because he knows how to set up a defender," said Kohn. "If you lay off him he beats you with the jump shot and if you play him too tight, he goes back door and scores layups. He's always in motion."
He's learned to position his feet well and use good angles to cut off quick point guards that try to drive on him when he's playing defense. He has long arms and a good sense of anticipation that make him a ball hawk in the passing lane. As a rebounder, he relies on positioning and good go to the ball instincts that compensate for what is only a little bit better than average jumping ability.
Improving as an on the ball defender has been one of his goals this summer. He plays against Rodriguez, a 5-10 waterbug with a go to the hoop mentality, in practice so he's constantly working against a quicker player. He's also had the luxury of spending a few weeks playing against his brother Pat, who was home for a few weeks.
"It's helped me because he's taller and he knows how to get his shot off," said Nick. "It's helped him because I'm shorter and quicker than he is. Going against him has helped me in a lot of ways and I also work out with him. He really works out hard and makes sure I don't take a day off."
The workouts at the RDV sports complex in Maitland have been expanded to include a sports yoga class.
"I lift 3-4 times a week and I do 100 pushups every night plus I work with a trainer twice a week," he said. "The yoga is to get me more flexible plus it helps with quickness and stamina."
In July he'll be playing for Nike Team Florida in the Peach Jam in Augusta, Georgia (July 12-15) and in the AAU Super Showcase Nationals at the Walt Disney World sports complex (July 22-24). That will bring to an end this summer in which he has earned five stars by Scout.com. He's presently ranked the number 16 player in the country by Scout.com and that could improve with outstanding performances in the Peach Jam and the nationals in Orlando.
The goal for his senior year at Lake Howell is the same one that has eluded him for three seasons --- win the state championship. The Silver Hawks have made the Final Four trip to Lakeland three straight years but they haven't brought home the big trophy.
"I'd like to win the state championship," he said. "That would be a good way to end high school and the next step is Florida. I can't wait to play for Coach Donovan. Life's really good right now."