ATHENS — Georgia’s Nicolas Claxton made it infinitely clear what the parameters were for him remaining in college or staying in the NBA Draft. Pretty much, it was first round or bust.
In announcing Tuesday night that he was indeed staying in the draft and leaving the Bulldogs for good, the sophomore forward feels pretty certain that he’s going to get a first-round call.
“There are no assurances out there but, yeah, I’m told it’s a real strong possibility after the combine,” Claxton said by telephone from his home in Greenville, S.C., Tuesday night. “I went there and did my thing and there’s a lot of buzz around my name now. So we feel good about it.”
When he went to the NBA combine in Chicago two weeks ago, Claxton measure 6-foot-11 3/4 with a 7-foot-2.5 wing span. Claxton blocked 9 shots in one game at the combine and also impressed scouts with his agility and ability to handle the basketball. He weighed in at only 217 pounts.
Also exciting scouts was Claxton’s rate of improvement in college. Claxton led Georgia in scoring (13.0 ppg), rebounding (8.6 rpg), blocks (81) and steals (34) and finished second on the team in assists (58) as a sophomore last season. He notched team-high efforts for double-digit scoring performances (21), double-figure rebounding counts (12) and double-doubles (eight).
In scoring alone, Claxton improved 233 percent (3.9 to 13.0 ppg) from his freshman to sophomore years playing for the Bulldogs.
Even so, Claxton said it was hard to decide to leave UGA.
“It definitely wasn’t an easy decision, especially with the situation of all the new guys coming in,” Claxton said. “I really wanted to play with those new guys. And I didn’t have a lot of closure from this past year. It feels like the season just ended, and I really didn’t know when I was going (leave for the NBA). But after testing the waters and getting the feedback I got, I feel like I made the right decision. And I’ll be able to go back and get my degree later on.”
The Bulldogs were 11-21 (2-16 SEC) last season, their first under coach Tom Crean.
Claxton was the only Bulldog to start every game last season. He was named second-team All-SEC by the league’s coaches and was on the SEC Academic Honor Roll for two straight seasons.
Claxton posted his announcement on his Twitter page.
— Clax (@_claxton33) May 29, 2019
Claxton is the son of former Georgia star and NBA player Charles Claxton, who has served as primary adviser throughout this two-month process.
The elder Claxton lauded the way Crean and the Bulldogs handled their situation and treated Nicolar throughout.
“Coach Crean has been unbelievable from the first day we met him,” Charles Claxton said. “He mentioned Nicolas at the first press conference before I even met. Our family getting to know Coach Crean has been a blessing. He’s been incredibly supportive through the whole process.
“He wished Nicolas well and said he’s going to do everything he can to help Nicolas going forward. That’s what you want. He came in and issued in a culture change. He wants guys to be able to go to the NBA. That’s the kind of guys he wants to recruit. So he’s very, very happy for Nicolas.”
Crean said he never made Claxton’s decision about what he could do for the team.
“He has a great family and support system,” Crean said. “No matter what happens, you support it, and you move forward.”
Claxton definitely could have/will enhance what’s expected to be one of the most improved teams in the SEC next season. Crean’s 2019 recruiting class that has been ranked as high as No. 5 nationally (by ESPN) and carries an average rating of No. 9 at this point.
It includes five of the nation’s top-100 prep prospects: Anthony Edwards, who is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 by virtually every scouting service; Christian Brown, who is listed at No. 60 nationally by ESPN.com; Jaykwon Walton, who is rated No. 67 by ESPN.com; Sahvir Wheeler, who is listed at No. 76 by ESPN.com; and Toumani Camara, a who has been tabbed No. 96 by ESPN.com and the 247Sports.com composite rankings. Georgia also has 6-2 guard Donnell Graham of Northeastern University coming in as a graduate transfer.
Meanwhile the Bulldogs have continued to recruit big men in anticipation of Claxton’s eventual departure. Rodney Howard, a 6-10 forward from Roswell, has named UGA and Tech as his finalists in a recruitment that is expected to conclude soon. Howard actually signed with Ole Miss out of high school but has requested that it be rescinded.