LAS VEGAS — Nic Claxton gave away his basketball beginnings on more than one occasion during NBA Summer League action this week.
The Brooklyn Nets’ 6-foot-11 rookie looked perfectly comfortable on the perimeter, putting the ball on the floor and taking advantage of open space for drives to the rim.
“I played point guard up until I think the eighth grade,” said Claxton. “The summer from my ninth grade summer until my 10th grade school year I grew from 6-2 to 6-7. So then I naturally transitioned into being more of a wing. I continued to sprout up so then I gradually became a forward, center type.”
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Claxton kept on growing. His father, Charles, is a seven-footer who was drafted in the second round of the 1994 NBA Draft and played with the Boston Celtics during the 1995-96 season.
Charles Claxton opted for a subtle influence early on, always making sure there were basketballs around the house. It didn’t take long for Nic to gravitate in that direction.
“My dad, he didn’t force me to play basketball, me or any of my siblings,” said Claxton. “It was more of a natural thing. I kind of fell in love with the game around second grade. Basketball has played a huge role in my life for as long as I can remember, and he’s been there for me every step of the way.
“He would always tell me what I needed to hear and not what I wanted to hear. Him being that role model for me, and he was my coach up until the eighth grade, so him being that role model for me has always been big.”
He ended up following his father’s path to the University of Georgia, about 90 minutes from his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. Charles Claxton was an All-SEC forward who still holds some strong positions on the school’s all-time scoring, rebounding and block lists.
Again, there was no direct push. But the family influence was felt.
“It really was kind of a set-up,” said Claxton. “Growing up I always go to the Georgia football games, Georgia basketball games and bled red and black my whole entire life. I almost went to Florida State but my heart told me to go to Georgia.”
After Claxton averaged 14.7 minutes per game coming off the bench as a freshman, a change at Georgia set him on the path to the NBA just a year later. Under new coach Tom Crean, the former Marquette and Indiana coach, Claxton started all 32 games, averaging 13.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
“Just allowing me to play out in space a lot more instead of just having my back to the basket a lot,” said Claxton. “Like how the NBA is today where you see bigger guys handling the ball and distributing and doing a lot of different things and not just playing on the blocks. Coach Crean, I give a lot of credit to him and I’m happy how everything turned out.”
Clearly, the Nets liked what they saw when Claxton was unleashed to utilizing all his skills. He falls into a profile similar to Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen, what Nets coach Kenny Atkinson likes to describe as the modern NBA center — long, athletic, ready to defend the rim on defense, operate on the perimeter and roll to the basket on offense.
The Nets set his life into overdrive when they drafted him on June 20. Less than two weeks later he was in Las Vegas getting ready to tip off Summer League.
“It’s been a movie, honestly,” said Claxton. “It’s been crazy. Just every day I’ve just been working. I was in Brooklyn, went back home for a couple of days and came out to Vegas so now we’re just out here in Vegas trying to get some wins.”
He’s had the opportunity here to work with Allen, the Nets starter for the last season-and-a-half who is just a year older than Claxton.
“It’s been good,” said Claxton. “He’s been giving me a lot of different pointers. Just telling me certain things like when to cover from help side to help out the guards and things like that. It’s been nice having him being that role model for me.”
With Allen’s presence, the Nets haven’t forced too much on Claxton in Vegas. He’s played 15.8 minutes per game, averaging 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 61 percent (11-18).
During the game-breaking 17-3, fourth-quarter run that propelled the Nets to a 93-85 win over Orlando on Wednesday, wrapping up the four-game preliminary section with a 3-1 record, Claxton threw down a long alley-oop from Theo Pinson, then followed up with a dramatic finish on a rebound off his own miss.
“It’s been cool,” said Claxton. “I’m still getting acclimated to everything honestly. It’s going to be a process. The game speed, it’s a lot faster. I’m still adjusting to that, but slowly but surely it’s been a process but it’s helping me. It’s cool to see the players on the roster coming back to support us during Summer League.”
This was the first look for Claxton at NBA life, and the first look for Nets fans at him. He’s looking forward to getting himself acclimated in Brooklyn, and with the Nets.
“A very energetic guy. Always positive, especially you see it on the floor whether I’m on the bench or on the court,” said Claxton. “I’m always just bringing positive vibes, so I think the fans will learn to love that about me."