After a strong NBA combine showing, Georgia forward Nicolas Claxton elected to keep his name in the draft pool Tuesday evening prior to the withdrawal deadline. He entered the draft process without hiring an agent, but received enough information to forgo his junior season and play professionally.
His two-year career with the Bulldogs ended with an exceptional campaign. Georgia might’ve been in the midst of a rebuild under head coach Tom Crean, but Claxton’s 6-foot-11 presence emerged into a legitimate NBA prospect. Most experts have the Greenville, South Carolina, native projected to be chosen in the first round’s latter stages.
“I became a better man on and off the court,” Claxton wrote in a tweet. “... Coach Crean and the staff pushed my game to another level. After going through the process and getting positive feedback, I have decided to forgo my final two years of college eligibility to remain in the 2019 NBA Draft. #ClaxOut.”
Claxton averaged 13 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks for Georgia in his sophomore season. His 81 blocks on the season ranked sixth-highest in school history for a single campaign. Before his No. 33 jersey leaves Stegeman Coliseum for the final time, here’s a look at some of Claxton’s top moments as a Bulldog.
1) Freshman season: Making the most of little playing time
Before the 2018 season tipped off, Georgia made each of its players available to the media. About six backdrops were placed around the room, and the new kid Claxton sat down in a chair. All of the attending reporters knew of his legacy as the son of former Bulldog center Charles Claxton.
But many were struck by his appearance: How can player to have enough height to share with two others at 6-foot-11, yet be so scrawny and thin at 215 pounds?
That took a while for the previous Mark Fox-led staff to discover, too. His playing time was very hit-or-miss as he could’ve played 20-22 minutes in a few SEC games (it was rarely more) or see a string of two, three or four-minute appearances. No consistent trend existed, but each time Georgia walked off the court, you’d hear murmurs of “Why doesn’t this kid play more?” or “Claxton can help this team.”
When he got opportunities, Claxton took advantage of them as a freshman. His first standout performance in conference was a three-block, five-rebound showing against Florida. Claxton led the team in blocks during 16 games, and it served as a springboard for a stronger campaign to follow.
2) December 22, 2018: Leading a late-game win over Georgia Tech
At times, the 2019 addition of Georgia’s rivalry with Georgia Tech was an atrocity. It was a matchup of two teams that lacked an identity, especially early in the season. For these two teams, bragging rights served as a significant reward, however, and the pace picked up toward the end. Claxton’s performance mirrored that timeline.
Georgia Tech held the Bulldog star in check, but then Claxton broke loose in the second half. His highlight was a monstrous two-handed dunk as mixed crowd reactions radiated through McCamish Pavilion. That was one of a few difference-making plays in the game’s late stages. Claxton finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and six blocks.
Once the final buzzer sounded, exuberance flowed from the Bulldogs’ bench and it marked a signature win in an otherwise down season.
3) February 9: Feeling like Dad
Georgia walked off of its home floor with a sense of embarrassment. It let an opportunity slip away against Ole Miss, and Crean was especially displeased due to the circumstances with lettermen in attendance. But one exciting reveal was the implementation of throwback uniforms from the 1990s, and Claxton recalled watching memories of his dad wearing that same jersey.
Father and son stood in the same arena on that special Saturday afternoon. The younger Claxton hesitated and glanced down at the jersey to reflect when asked about its significance.
“Putting the 33 on, I felt a lot like my dad,” Claxton said. “It has a lot of sentimental value to me wearing this number today.”
Claxton only recorded eight points in the loss, but the family legacy perspective saw the spotlight one final time.
4) March 2: A finger lickin’ statement game at Florida
In the waning moments on its rival’s floor, Georgia had a golden opportunity to salvage a woeful SEC slate and beat Florida. A few factors went against the Bulldogs: Saturday night, a road game and the Gators were a fringe NCAA tournament team with enough talent.
Georgia executed to the point where too many weaknesses weren’t exposed. The contest was up for grabs as the second half clock ticked down, and Georgia had Claxton come to the rescue. Florida had no answer for stopping him — like many SEC opponents — and Claxton was an efficient mismatch at 6-foot-11. A minute-and-a-half remained on the clock and Georgia had a two-point lead. Trying to give itself enough cushion, the Bulldogs couldn’t find many scoring options on this possession.
But Claxton stood near the free-throw line for a jumper. Swish. He backpedaled toward the Gators’ mid-court logo as the camera honed in on Claxton licking four fingers in a GIF-worthy celebration. He finished with a season-high 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting and readied for a postgame barbecue with his finger-licking techniques (not confirmed).
One of his final SEC contests served as Claxton’s statement game and left Bulldog followers with one thought: Nic Claxton is ridiculously good and has a bright future.
That’ll see its next step once Claxton’s name is called during the NBA draft on June 20.