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Friday, May 27, 2022

As the light leaves the sky behind his small, stone home, John Calathes remembers.

It comes to him like the thoughts of those who mourn, who choose to remember so they will never forget.

"Sometimes I wonder about this place," he said. "There were some hellacious battles here."

Calathes Sr., now 51 and balding just slightly beneath his Gators cap, points at the date 4-9-93, which remains clear on this aging concrete.

It's a date that means so much in the scope of things, simply because time has rendered this place, once a basketball lover's Eden, into no more than cracks and stories.

It's impossible to walk a circle around the hexagonal court, so he navigates in a crooked line to the place where he can point out his youngest son's purple handprint.

It's no bigger than a dog's paw and reads "Nicky" above it. The "y" is starting to fade, which is slightly ironic and fitting at the same time.

It belongs to UF freshman Nick Calathes, who was just 4 then and has since dropped the "y." According to his father, not much else has changed.

"He's still Nicky - just a little bigger now," he said.

Punching Bag

This basketball court, which appears unexpectedly like water in a hazy desert, is where it all began.

In 1993, Calathes and his older, twin brothers Pat and John fell in love with the game and asked their father for a court in the backyard.

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Their father agreed with one stipulation: they had to pay for it.

"Telling a 4-year-old he has to build a basketball court isn't easy," John said.

Calathes and his brothers decided to sell their basketball cards, which included an NBA Hall of Famer Pete Maravich rookie card. They made $400.

Although not quite enough, it helped get things started.

John and his three sons began construction, and a few weeks later it was done.

The three children, along with their neighborhood friend Mark, dipped their hands in purple paint and made impressions in a crooked row near the edge of where the now-cracked court meets the grass.

Growing up, Calathes and Pat, now a starting forward for St. Joseph's, would compete in nightly heated battles that forced their father to place lights atop the house.

The games would often come to blows, and John would grab a pair of boxing gloves, so his children could settle their differences.

"They thought it was pretty cool," he said. "I was just happy they couldn't kill each other."

The competitive nature of the two children would boil over at times. Calathes' forehead is a palette of scars that remind.

Once, during a tense game of chess, Calathes defeated his older brother - who decided to hurl the king at his face.

"Every since I was young they would pick on me," Calathes said. "It's definitely made me stronger."

Calathes was on the wrong side of most brotherly altercations, but even then he showed the fight and drive he displays today.

This was evident one day during middle school, when his father decided to bring Pat and three of his high school teammates to scrimmage against Calathes' Tuskawilla Golden Falcons team.

Pat and his friends manhandled the younger squad, provoking Calathes to erupt in rage.

Their father cleared the court and told the two to "have at it."

It didn't take long for Pat to toss his younger brother on the floor.

A bleeding, bruised Calathes couldn't get up, but still shook his fist, and with tears in his eyes yelled, "Come get it."

"Needless to say," John said, "Nick will never back down."

Calathes was the runt of the family, and he paid for it.

"He always got the worst of it," said Sue Calathes, Nick's stepmother. "It hurts to think about it."

Band of Brothers

Calathes and his brothers, although fiercely competitive at times, possess a bond proven by the marks they all share.

This past summer, the three decided to ink their sentiments with matching tattoos.

Over the heart of each brother is a large black "C" with the red, intertwined letters "J," "P" and "N," signifying their names in the middle.

"It represents our brotherly bond," Calathes said. "It's about sticking together."

The family, for all its competitiveness and drive, is woven together by the threads that all close families share.

Calathes speaks to Pat every day and his father before and after every game.

John is his son's biggest critic and most avid fan.

"Sometimes I have to divorce the coach from the dad," he said.

Calathes' father admits he pushed his son, perhaps too hard at times. It was always about basketball. Not because he asked, but because his son had an almost unhealthy drive to succeed.

When Calathes was in sixth grade, his grades began to drop. His teachers complained he was falling asleep during classes and slacking in his studies.

This was unlike Calathes, who was normally a standout student.

His father discovered why. His son was spending time as a ball boy for nearby Lake Howell High School. Additionally, he was participating in the school's freshman, junior varsity and varsity practices.

Calathes was playing basketball for nearly seven hours every day, which worried and surprised his father.

"I thought to myself, 'Holy mackerel, this kid has drive,'" John said.

To get away from the world of basketball, the family headed to Las Vegas this past summer. It was a 10-day vacation.

Calathes' father said it was the longest time they have gone without mention of the game.

It was there, in the City of Sin, where Calathes' biggest fear came to light.

"My dad had to pay me to ride roller coasters when I was younger," Calathes said. "I will never go on them again."

In a home video edited by his father, Calathes chooses to film his brothers instead of going on a ride that simulates falling off a building. The camera work is shaky as he jumps up and down yelling obscenities.

Finding a fear in Calathes' life isn't easy. When he was 2 1/2 he raced bikes and motocross.

His stepmother said he was crazy, and it's clear by the picture in a scrapbook, which has a caption that reads, "He's good at it, too!" that she was proud as well.

"Nick wasn't afraid of anything and wanted to do everything," Sue said.

His desire to break boundaries continued as he grew.

Driven to Succeed

When he turned 3, Calathes was already succeeding at basketball. He won the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament and the FBVA Slammin' Jammin' 3-on-3, two competitions usually reserved for 5-year-olds.

Calathes played point guard, and next to his first certificate for winning the Macker tournament it reads, "Nick plays point guard, and he's good at it, too!"

It appears a trend was starting to develop.

As Calathes grew older, the scrapbook began to thicken.

It turns to a time when Calathes played for the Florida Raptors, a 10-and-under AAU basketball team coached by his father.

Calathes' father points to the team's first photo, where a collection of familiar children wear oversized purple and yellow jerseys.

Calathes is in the middle of the back row, smiling with his hair sticking up like it still does today. Two players to his right is Darius Washington, the former Memphis star who had a taste of the NBA before heading overseas.

In the front row, all the way to the left, is former Gators point guard Taurean Green.

There's a picture of the two childhood pals sharing a tube at a water park in Greensboro, N.C., where they would win the first-ever 10-and-under title in Florida AAU history.

The path gets even more twisted, when in the summer of 2000, a 10-year-old Calathes and his Raptors squad squared off against a team featuring UF coach Billy Donovan's son.

Calathes' team won by 25, and when John went to congratulate Donovan on the Gators' first trip to the Final Four in the previous April, Donovan greeted him with a surprising response.

"He said, 'Thanks, but you deserve to be congratulated, too,'" Calathes' father said. "He said we really whooped them."

Donovan then came and spoke to the team, years before he knew Green would lead him to the Promised Land, and even longer before he would hand Calathes the keys to the show.

"It was just neat, and you have to respect a man like that," Calathes' father said. "Nick loved him, just like he does now."

Calathes' basketball career continued to prosper and his trophy collection grew too decorated to maintain. His bedroom is a cathedral to his success. There are 41 trophies littered throughout, which makes it nearly impossible to find your way around.

The wall is lined with news clippings and pictures of famous people, ranging from Bill Walton to John Wooden to a Hooters waitress.

One of his brothers is slowly moving in, marked by the leopard blanket his father assures doesn't belong to Calathes.

His father sits in his living room decked out in Gators gear from his hat to his belt buckle.

He pops in a DVD titled "Carpe Diem," which recounts Calathes' junior and senior seasons as a member of the Lake Howell Silver Hawks, where he teamed up with UF forward Chandler Parsons to win a Class 5A State Championship in 2007.

"Nick has changed so much," John said. "Parsons, on the other hand, looks exactly the same."

During the DVD, Parsons comes on screen and tells the camera, "I'm proud of (Calathes) and proud to be his best friend."

Some things never change.

Back on the court in Casselberry, the sun is setting, making it almost most too dark to see, and the many workings of this one-time paradise are fading like the ground itself.

There is a deflated ball resting beside the pole, and cracks worm their way across the center.

The spots on the block and the free throw line have become just shades on a dark surface.

There are 21 purple spots scattered throughout, which stand out like memories as you try to forget them.

"One time, when Nick was 6," Calathes' father said as he points to a spot near the basket, "he made 50 layups in a row."

Calathes' father puts one hand in his left pocket and scratches his head as he looks around.

You can tell this place tears at him, like any great story would.

In some ways it seems like he's saddened, but then with a quick smile it all changes and you can see straight through.

"He's been doing it his whole life," he said. "That won't ever change."

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