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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Calathes becoming star player in 'Year of the Freshman'

Nick "Yes sir, no sir" Calathes has said all the right things since he arrived in Gainesville.

Now he's starting to do the right things on the court, too.

It was never more apparent than on Saturday night, when Calathes redeemed himself in UF's primetime, overtime win against Kentucky.

"This is what basketball players dream for," said Calathes, who scored 13 points in overtime, four more than Kentucky did. "We know we can finish it out at the end of games."

In this "Year of the Freshman," Calathes' dramatic performance ought to put him smack dab in the middle of the elite group, perhaps a notch higher than the Wildcats' Patrick Patterson.

Buy now, because his stock is going to keep rising after his performance against Kentucky.

It's not just the 13 overtime points that he scored that's impressive, even though it is.

But how about the 4 points he didn't score?

Calathes missed four free throws in a row late in the second half, helping keep Kentucky in the game.

You worry about how that affects the psyche of a freshman.

Former Memphis guard Darius Washington, who hails from Calathes' hometown, Winter Park, infamously missed two of three free throws with no time left to cost the Tigers an NCAA Tournament bid in his freshman year.

He slowly fell onto the court, covering his face with his jersey.

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Washington still hasn't gotten back on his feet.

He now plays with Aris TT Bank in Greece with such stars as Dimitrios Karadolamis and Spyridon Panteliadis.

But unlike Washington two years ago, Calathes got another chance.

He made all 10 of his free throws in overtime.

So much for freshman nerves.

"It's a lot mental," Calathes said. "My dad said to me when he called me on the phone after the game, he said 'Just don't think about it. You've shot too many free throws to be thinking about if I'm going to make it or miss it and what people are thinking. Just go out and shoot it.' In overtime, I really just didn't think about it. I just shot the ball, and it helped."

Call it shooting stupid.

Don't think. Just let your normal routine take over.

Calathes has put a lot of thought into the rest of his game to make his teammates better.

His passing played a big part in center Marreese Speights' solid first half against Kentucky, and his ability to drive and dish has helped others cash in, too.

Calathes leads all Division I freshmen and everybody in the Southeastern Conference with 113 assists (5.95 per game), despite sharing point guard duties with Jai Lucas.

He has it tougher than any of the other teenage phenoms because he has the responsibility of leading a young, unranked team.

UCLA's Kevin Love and Memphis' Derrick Rose have the luxury of playing with experienced stars, while Indiana's Eric Gordon and Kansas State's Michael Beasley are just being told to score, score, score, the same orders their high school coaches handed down to them.

I think Calathes has the total package, and hopefully the rest of the country is catching on, too.

"Eric Gordon, Michael Beasley, they probably have to score that much because they're the key on their team," Calathes said. "We have five guys that can score. I just look to create for them. When I have my shots, I'll shoot."

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