Nicolas Claxton’s greatest desires became tangible Thursday night as thousands of eyes at the Barclays Center fixated upon him. He strutted toward the stage in a flashy off-white sport jacket to accept the Brooklyn Nets’ 31st pick of the NBA draft.
A dream flashed before the former Georgia forward’s eyes. He continued a family legacy and molded his own footsteps in the path of his father, Charles Claxton. Charles, who etched his name in Georgia basketball lore, was a 1994 second-round selection of the Phoenix Suns.
Claxton is the first Georgia player to be drafted in the NBA draft since Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in 2013, a eighth-overall selection with the Detroit Pistons (now with the Los Angeles Lakers). Georgia has two alumni on NBA active rosters: Caldwell-Pope and Yante Maten with the Miami Heat. Claxton, similarly to Caldwell-Pope, declared for the draft after two seasons of college eligibility.
Claxton opted to test the draft waters after his sophomore campaign, and one more season of improvement was a viable option as Georgia signed a highly-touted recruiting class led by the nation’s No. 1 overall player in Anthony Edwards. A strong showing in the draft combine, however, changed that. He caught the eyes of professional scouts and measured in with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a 9-foot-2 standing reach.
He opted to keep his name in the draft after projections as a late first-round pick. Some angst followed as he slipped to the first pick of the second round, but Brooklyn made the call in its home arena over four hours after the draft began. Claxton confirmed Wednesday night that he would be in attendance for the draft after being invited to the event’s Green Room.
Claxton’s final season at Georgia fueled his ascent to draft prominence. He was the centerpiece in an otherwise-struggling Bulldogs’ basketball team. Claxton averaged 13 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in a new style of offense. Georgia transitioned to an up-and-down pace, and the transition game allowed Claxton to reveal another element of his game.
After two seasons, Claxton changes uniforms and pursues his biggest dream as a Net. But one of his teammates envisioned this night quite some time ago.
“He’s a pro,” Georgia guard Tyree Crump said. “If he’s 6-foot-10, he can stretch the floor, he can shoot. That’s what coaches in the NBA look for. And he can defend. I think he’s a pro.”