GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the early morning of Feb. 11, tired and heartbroken,
So, while the grown-ups in Gainesville slept and the students trickled home after last call, Calathes shot free throw after free throw. "To be the player I want to be -- and for our team to win -- in games like that, I have to make those," the sophomore said this week.
Calathes wants that responsibility, but the circumstances surrounding his first two seasons in Gainesville may have put too much on his shoulders. Calathes is a more complete player than any of the Oh-Fours, the quartet that led Florida to national titles in 2006 and 2007, but it's possible he could leave Gainesville without ever playing in a NCAA tournament.
Florida hosts Kentucky on Saturday at 2 p.m. in what amounts to a loser-retires steel cage match. Thanks to losses by both teams this week -- a flat Florida performance at Mississippi State and an unforgivable home loss to Georgia for the Wildcats -- a win Saturday probably won't be enough to secure an at-large bid. But a win combined with a few more at next week's SEC tournament might suffice. So Calathes, who is sixth in the SEC in scoring (18.2 ppg) and first in assists (6.4 apg), will make his last-ditch effort for the next -- he hopes -- nine days to make the NCAA tournament.
The tourney is where players build their legacies, especially 6-foot-5 point guards who, despite their technical brilliance, don't show up on the highlight shows because they don't dunk. "You're not going to see Nick on SportsCenter unless he hits a buzzer-beater or he just makes some really crazy passes -- just because it's not really his game," said older brother
Given a chance to show off his mindbending court vision in the tournament with
Some recruits never made it to campus for reasons Donovan couldn't control.
Other players left the program. Class of 2005 forward
The players who stayed simply haven't developed as expected. For an example, consider this series of offensive possessions from the first half of Florida's 79-75 loss to Tennessee on Sunday. On the first, Calathes penetrated and found a forward
Such is life for Calathes, who probably would lead the nation in assists if his teammates could finish on a more consistent basis. Calathes gets asked all the time if he feels like he's carrying the Gators. He always says no, but his actions suggest he feels pressure to do it all. Pat, who, in spite of the seven-hour time difference still talks to his younger brother almost every day, said Nick has worked hard at being a better vocal leader. But part of learning to lead is learning how not to force the issue. That's why Donovan benched Calathes for the last 2:44 of Wednesday's loss at Mississippi State. Calathes, who also tried to force a reverse layup at the end of the Tennessee defeat, had chucked an ill-advised three-point attempt far too early in the shot clock. In either case, Calathes would have served the team better by getting the ball to a teammate.
That may be the toughest intangible for the ultra-competitive Calathes to learn. He grew up playing hoops until the wee hours with Pat and his two step-brothers while father
Pat, who's Hawks made last year's tourney as an at-large team, wants badly for his younger brother to experience the thrill of seeing his team's name slotted into a bracket during the CBS selection show. "It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences," Pat said. "Just seeing your name pop up on the bracket, it was great. There's nothing like it in sports, period."
If Calathes stays in Gainesville another year, he'll probably get his chance. Assuming class of 2009 signee