ATHENS — Nicolas Claxton and his family got some news this week. For them, it was extraordinarily good. For Georgia basketball fans, it might not be what they were hoping for.
Claxton found out — officially — that he is being invited to the NBA Draft Combine May 15-May 19 in Chicago. This means the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-11 sophomore forward from Greenville, S.C., most definitely is on the radar of NBA teams, and they want to explore in the most intimate of terms the possibility of drafting him.
And why wouldn’t they? It’s not often that an agile athlete nearly 7 feet in height who can shoot the basketball and handle it like a point guard comes along. So for Claxton and his family — which includes Georgia basketball letterman Charles Claxton — this mean’s Nicolas is a step closer to realizing his lifelong dream of becoming a NBA player.
“That’s one of his goals,” said Charles Claxton, who as a 7-foot center played for the Bulldogs from 1992-95 and was drafted 1995. “The way the NBA is now, a 6-11 kid who can shoot, handle and pass, you know, they like that. So what we decided to do is see where we are. There was some interest before he declared and there are new rules now, so let’s take advantage of them.”
It’s in those new rules where the Bulldogs can find some hope. Claxton can come back if he so decides.
That would obviously be helpful to Georgia, which is trying to build something special under second-year coach Tom Crean. Despite last year’s 11-21 season (2-16 SEC), many feel Crean is well on his way to doing that.
Georgia signed four Top 100-ranked prospects — led by consensus No. 2 player Anthony “Antman” Edwards — in this year’s recruiting class. More could be on their way via signing and/or transfers. As Crean continues to install his position-less, freestyle system of high-scoring basketball with the Bulldogs, the idea of having Claxton back as a featured piece is enough to make hoops fans salivate.
As a sophomore last season, Claxton led Georgia in scoring (13.0 ppg), rebounding (8.6 rpg), blocks (81) and steals (34). Not only did he finish second on the team in assists (58), he made a good argument for being the Bulldogs’ best option at point guard.
The only player on Georgia’s roster to start every game, Claxton’s versatility and production was uncanny. Several of his single-season tallies notched on the Bulldogs’ all-time lists, including sixth in blocks, 13th in rebounds and 23rd in rebound average.
In just two years, Claxton joined Georgia’s top-10 leaders in career blocks with 123 swats. That’s No. 8 all-time for the Bulldogs and 179 shy of the school record of 302 by Lavon Mercer. His dad, by the way, is No. 2 on that list with 247 blocks.
But as much as Charles would like to keep his son from swatting down his record, that has nothing to do with the actions he has joined his son in taking. For the Claxton household, what takes place from this point forward is purely a business decision.
“I’ve got to be a dad first,” Charles Claxton said. “I might be the biggest Georgia fan ever. Seriously, I am. But if your aspiration is to go to the NBA and there are opportunities for you to go to the NBA, you have to consider it. Nothing is guaranteed.”
So it is with the intention of gathering as much information as possible that the Claxtons are proceeding with this process. And thanks to new NCAA legislation, they’re able to do so unfettered without the clunkiness of the old way of doing things.
In the wake of the ongoing FBI scandal, the NCAA in 2018 altered the process by which a college player is allowed to test the NBA draft. College players now are allowed to be represented by certified agents, so long as they request an “evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee.” They must terminate the relationship if they return to school.
Not surprisingly, a lot of NBA hopeful underclassmen are taking advantage of this new rule. There were 163 at last count.
There are, of course, only 30 NBA teams and 60 picks in their two-round draft. This year’s draft will be conducted June 20 at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. But Claxton and the other underclassmen will have their decisions in well before that.
The deadline to declare is May 29.
“We’ll have more team workouts get more feedback after the combine,” Charles Claxton said. “But you should know by then if you’re going to go first round or second round.”
And the Claxtons are pretty transparent about what decide whether they stay or go. For them, it’s first round or UGA bound.
“If the opportunity is not there to go first round, next year he’ll try to build his stock and have some fun winning games at Georgia,” said the elder Claxton, who was drafted in the second round by the Phoenix Suns in 1995, but played only one half of his five professional seasons in the NBA. “If he comes back, hey, he’s gotten some good experience and I think he’ll have a real good season. But if you’re looking at the kid’s future and there’s an opportunity to go in the first round, you have to take that opportunity. That’s our mindset.”
The good news for Georgia is the Claxtons have done everything by the book down the last letter, comma and period. Nicolas recently completed spring practice with the Bulldogs in Athens. He’s continuing to attend classes daily during the week and accepting NBA team workouts only the weekends.
They’ll attend the combine in Chicago, as will Georgia’s Crean. Afterward, they’ll gauge what teams show interest and then evaluate the feedback with the help of an adviser. Then they’ll make their move.
The first person to know the Claxtons’ decision will be Crean.
“He’s been great. Crean understands,” Charles Claxton said. “I know a lot of Georgia fans – I’d say most Georgia fans – are probably going to be selfish and I understand that. They want Nicolas to come back because we’ll have a better season, maybe a great season. But Nicolas has to do what’s best for Nicolas. That comes first. He has to do what’s best for him.”
As one might expect, the loquacious Crean has an opinion about all this.
“Hey, if we’re doing everything right, we’re going to have these situations every year,” Crean said as he was driving during a recruiting trip on Saturday. “I’m not wired like that at all, in the sense that I’d want him back because of what he can do for me and for Georgia. I want what’s truly best for Nic and his family. I’ve been down this road so many times now and the most important thing is that they stay focused and centered on getting better, doing a really good job academically, be able to take and to trust the real feedback – not just opinions and what comes out of the dot-coms – and make an informed decision. I’m going to do everything I can to help them get the real feedback from decision-makers. So it just comes down to that.
“And what Nic has done has just been outstanding. He’s staying absolutely centered and focused on getting better here, on everything we’re doing here. On our last two official visits, he’s been a host, and that was his choice. It just goes to show his maturity and how he’s been raised and that he still has a strong love for Georgia.”
Charles Claxton seconded that opinion. He, too, wants to see the Bulldogs achieve summits it has only briefly scaled in years past. He knows his son’s continued presence in a Georgia uniform would only enhance those possibilities. And so, they’re keeping that option very much open.
But first-round assurances — if there truly is such a thing — would trump that in a heartbeat.
“All our options are on the table,” Charles Claxton said. “We’ve done everything we’re supposed to do class-wise and rule-wise. He’s been working hard. He went through Georgia’s spring practice and he’s working on his own. It’s a blessing for him to be in the position that he’s in. He’s just going to take advantage of the rules and make an informed decision. It’s kind of a win-win for him. If he goes in the first round, great; if he doesn’t, he gets be a college student and a Bulldog.
“He loves Athens and he’s excited about the kids we’re bringing in and the ones that are coming back. He’d love to go get some revenge.”