ATLANTA — Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean knew he had something special in sophomore forward Nicolas Claxton just two practices into taking over as the Bulldogs head coach last March.
“It’s the second workout and I’m watching him, and we’re starting to work on going with the other hand, and I thought ‘he can be really good with this,’ “Crean said after Claxton came off the bench to record his fifth double-double of the season and lead a 70-59 win over Georgia Tech.
‘I was watching film and seeing what he was comfortable with, but also, what can we work on with him that’s gong to stretch his confidence, and to stretch his conference you’r going to stretch his game,” he said. “We started putting him on the perimeter more, working with his shooting, forcing him to go right, dropping his shoulder, having to guard guards.”
Georgia has essentially created a monster, as the 6-foot-11 Claxton leads the SEC in rebounding (10.1 per game) and blocked shots (34), while also ranked amount league leaders in assists (17th), scoring (21st) and free-throw percentage (30th).
Nicolas Claxton prepares to block shot/Photo courtesy UGA sports
“I think Claxton is really good, he’s a pro,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “He hit a big shot today, and he’s long.”
Claxton’s 6-foot-11 frame alone creates problems, but Crean notes how his skill and athleticism have him ascending quickly.
“He’s got tremendous agility, he moves his feet extremely well,” Crean said. “We’re really comfortable with him guarding one to five, and he’s a shot maker.
“He’s a joy to work with, and he’s really just scratching the surface.”
Crean knows a pro when he sees one, having coached NBA stars Dwayne Wade at Marquette and Victor Oladipo and Yogi Ferral at Indiana.
Claxton, a 3-star prospect out of Greenville, S.C., had a handful of offers before choosing Georgia.
It’s clear he has clicked quickly with his new head coach and the Bulldogs uptempo scheme.
“Coach Crean and the staff are very demanding, the pace is a lot faster,” Claxton said. “We’re still adjusting to it, and we’re enjoying it. Everybody is having a lot more fun out there. Games, practices, walk-throughs, everything, it’s always uptempo.”
Claxton’s mere presence is a game changer on both ends of the floor, his skills and shooting range forcing teams to defend the Bulldogs differently, while on defense he alters shots around the rim.
The son of former Georgia All-SEC performer and NBA draft pick Charles Claxton (7-foot, 265 pounds), Nicolas said he always believed he would grow into his game.
“I knew I could do this, I feel I have more left in the tank, once I get my shots falling, just continue to stay confident working in the gym,” Nicolas Claxton said. “I’m trusting the process and enjoying it, day by day.”
• 1st in blocks, 34
• 1st in rebounding, 10.1 per game
• 17th in assists, 2.6 per game
• 21st in scoring, 12.6 points per game
• 30th in free-throw percentage, 68.1 percent
Georgia forward Nicolas Claxton
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