ATHENS – In the face, Nic Claxton looks a lot like his father, especially when he smiles. And he smiles a lot, according to his coaches and teammates.
But on the court, there’s very little about Claxton that resembles Charles Claxton, and that goes beyond the size of their frames.
When Charles Claxton left Georgia to play for the Boston Celtics, and then overseas, he was 7 feet tall and weighed just south of 300 pounds. Nic is likewise tall, listed at 6-11 on the Bulldogs’ roster. But the Georgia freshman is listed at 215 pounds, and that’s a generous measure after the conditioning rigors he’s been through getting ready for this season. Nic left high school a good bit less than 200 pounds.
But the real difference in these two Claxtons will be apparent when Nic takes the floor for the Bulldogs in his first college basketball game Friday night as Georgia opens the 2017-18 season against Bryant College at 7 p.m. at Stegeman Coliseum.
Don’t expect Nic to run down the floor and try to establish post-up position on the low block. This is a player whose game is based on movement and finding room for an open shot. And when he gets one, he tends to knock them down.
“He’s really good,” said senior Yante Maten, the established star on this Georgia team. “He’s very mobile, he’s able to shoot the ball very well. He’s a great post. He can pretty much do it all. He’s going to be a great player for us, for sure.”
If the opponent the Bulldogs are playing doesn’t get you excited, seeing young Nic Claxton go to work on the court should, according to those who have seen him play a lot.
“He’s a pro,” said Claxton’s teammate, sophomore guard Tyree Crump. “I mean, he’s 6-10, he can stretch the floor, he can shoot. That’s what guys look for. And he can defend. He’s a pro, nothing else I can say. He’s a pro.”
So much for understatement.
But that’s the type of potential the Bulldogs are seeing in Nic Claxton. And it’s the type of player Charles Claxton set out for his son to be.
While the senior Claxton starred for the Bulldogs under Hugh Durham in the early 1990s and accomplished great things as a space-eater in the middle, he envisioned a different style of play for his son. He coached Nic in AAU ball from the ninth grade on, and he always emphasized ball-handling and outside shooting.
So Nic is a much different player than his dad.
“It was very intentional,” Charles Claxton said. “From the time he was a young pup, all he heard from me was ‘ball-handling, shooting, ball-handling, shooting.’ His ninth grade year, he didn’t even play AAU. All he did was work on his skills, and that was on purpose.”
Though he played in a different era, Charles Claxton said the lack of versatility in his game probably held him back as a pro. Claxton left Georgia No. 2 all-time in career blocks (247), fifth in rebounding (840) and 19th in scoring (1,274 points). But he came through in the age of Shaquille O’Neal and other big men who played with brute strength and with their back to the basket.
The goal is for Nic Claxton to put on weight and get stronger. But he plays the game with all the attributes necessary in the fast-paced modern game. He can catch-and-shoot on a spot-up 3-pointer as well as he can drop in a shot on a baby-hook across the lane.
“I’d say the strength of my game is versatility, being able to affect the game in a lot of ways,” said Nic, whose given name is Nicolas. “It came just from hard work, just from being in the gym and working to diversify my game.”
Nic used those skills to become just the fourth player in Legacy Charter (Greenville, S.C.) history to reach 1,000 points in his career. He graduated with 1,163 points, 594 rebounds and 202 blocked shots. As a senior, Claxton averaged 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks while leading the Legacy Lions to a 26-10 record.
Nic Claxton scored 14 points in Georgia’s two exhibition games on 6-for-8 shooting in limited minutes. But he’s far from a finished product. And with a veteran-laden frontline, he’ll have a hard time finding playing time, much less making a major impact.
But Claxton exhibits a similar skillset to a player Mark Fox had at Nevada in Nick Fazekas, who could take advantage of opponents both inside and outside. And he has shown the Bulldogs enough during his three months on campus to know they made out well getting this legacy from Legacy.
“I think early what’s important for Nic is that he gets comfortable doing certain things,” Fox said. “He has a lot of ability. But we’ve got to focus that on specific things, and then expand them once he gets good with the things we start with.”
One area in which Nic Claxton hopes he is immediately much better than his father is in free-throw shooting. Charles Claxton always struggled at the foul line. Nic is working hard on it.
“I would say my free throws are a work in progress,” Nic said, flashing that familiar Claxton grin.