WINTER PARK — Midway through the third quarter it is obvious the Lake Howell Silver Hawks are toying with the Lake Region Thunder in a Region 5-5A quarter-final game. With three minutes left it has turned into one fast break opportunity after another and only a behind the back pass from Nick Calathes to Chandler Parsons, who finishes with a two-hand dunk, can bring the crowd to its feet.
When the third quarter comes to a merciful end, Coach Steve Kohn lifts Florida-bound Calathes and Parsons along with Virginia Commonwealth-bound Joey Rodriguez and plays the subs on his bench the rest of the way. When the final horn sounds, it’s a 74-34 win for the Silver Hawks that could have been much, much worse.
It’s just another 40-point blowout for the 25-3 Silver Hawks whose only three losses are to out-of-state teams ranked in the USAToday poll. No Florida team has come within 25 points of them but they’re expecting things to tighten up from here on out.
“The games get tougher the rest of the way … much, much tougher,” said Parsons, whose worksheet reads 20 points on 9-14 shooting, 10 rebounds and two assists. The Florida signee is averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds per game even though he’s only played in the fourth quarter a handful of times this season. Lake Howell’s next game is Tuesday night against 24-3 Ridgewood in Newport Richey.
“I really want to finish things out with a state championship,” says Calathes, who hit three third quarter three-pointers en route to a 25-point night that included 7-12 shooting from the field to go with five rebounds and seven assists. The future Gator is averaging 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game.
Lake Howell has been to the Final Four in Class 5A the last three years but has come up short of a championship. Last year the Silver Hawks seemed poised to win it all but the combination of a buzzsaw quick Gainesville Eastside team and Calathes playing with a 100-degree temperature and the flu resulted in a semi-final loss.
Needless to say, a state championship in their last go-round would certainly do much to erase three years of bad memories of the last game of the season for Calathes and Parsons.
“We’re playing well as a team and we’re a lot better than we were last year,” said Calathes. “We work harder and this is our last chance to win it. This year, I think we’re going all the way.”
Calathes, who committed to Florida in the summer of 2005, has grown to 6-6 and his body is starting to fill out. Workouts at the RDV Sports Complex in Maitland along with a nutrition plan designed to bulk him up have allowed him to reach his present weight of 193 pounds. He played at 178 last year.
“This year I’m a lot stronger because I’ve been training at RDV,” he said. “I’m physically stronger and that’s helped me to be mentally stronger, too. I don’t get fatigued down the stretch anymore.”
His goal is to add another 10-15 pounds of muscle before he takes the floor as a freshman at Florida.
“I’d like to play at 6-6, 205 to 210 next year,” he said. “I’m going to really work hard in the spring and the summer to gain some strength and some weight.”
Coach Steve Kohn says that the muscle has allowed Calathes to develop a physical confidence that was missing in the past.
“He’s always had confidence but he’s never had physical confidence,” said Kohn. “He wants to be an outstanding college basketball player and he’s aware that it’s a physical game, so he’s dedicated himself to getting stronger and getting ready.”
Calathes isn’t the only one who’s added muscle to a skinny frame. Parsons was a rail-thin 180 last year. He’s still skinny but it’s easy to tell he’s added some weight and muscle plus he’s a full inch taller.
“I’m 6-9 and 202 now,” Parsons said. “It makes it a lot easier to finish and get to the line with those and ones. I can do things down low that I couldn’t do last year. I’m a better rebounder and better on defense. I can get points inside that I couldn’t get last year. I’m hoping to get up to 225 by the time I get to Florida. I know they’ll put some weight on me and I’ll be a lot better prepared to help the Gators win.”
Parsons exploded on the recruiting scene during the spring and summer of 2006 at AAU tournaments and a couple of elite camps. He’s continued to get better and much of the improvement can be attributed to the added strength.
“He is our most improved player,” said Kohn. “From City of Palms (December tournament) to right now he’s made a huge jump. A couple of times he went and got stuff tonight that he wouldn’t have gotten to early on because he’s stronger now. He’s so much stronger than he was last year. He knows he’s got another step to go to physically but he’s already made a huge jump. I think he’s going to continue to get better at the next level.”
Calathes has always had a great all-around game, but he thinks he’s a better player this year because of an improved mental approach.
“I’m not taking as many shots this year because I’m taking smarter shots,” he said. “I’m smarter about when to take my shots during the game and I think that’s made me a better passer. I think I needed to improve my defense and I think I have. Coach (Larry) Shyatt and Coach (Donnie) Jones (Florida assistant coaches) have seen me and they told me I’ve gotten so much better defensively. I feel like I can play people tighter this year and get more into the passing lanes.”
Parsons has always had the ability to score and pass, but this year he has improved defensively down low and he has become a presence to be reckoned with on the backboards.
“I wanted my whole game to get better this year,” he said. “I wanted to be able to finish better once I get the ball inside and I wanted to play a lot better defense. I think I’ve gotten better and I think I’m improved as a rebounder, too. I was more of an outside player last year but this year I’m able to get inside a lot.”
Calathes and Parsons have both been named Jordan Brand All-Americans which means they will be playing in the Jordan Brand All-American Classic in April at Madison Square Garden. They are finalists for the McDonald’s All-American team and they should hear if they’ll be playing in that game in about a week.
Meanwhile they’re trying to finish out their playing careers at Lake Howell with a championship while cheering on their future team to another NCAA championship.
“Florida’s the best team in the country and Coach Donovan is the best coach in the nation,” Parsons said. “If you bet money, then put it on the Gators to repeat. I’d bet on Lake Howell to win it all, too.”
Calathes likes the Gators’ chances to make it two NCAA championships in a row.
“They’ve got the team and they’ve got the right focus,” he said. “That’s why they came back against Alabama. They don’t ever lose their focus even when they’re 18 points down. It’s going to be tough for anybody to beat them.”
When Kohn thinks about the last four years with Calathes and Parsons, he knows it’s been a special era at Lake Howell.
“This is as good as it gets,” he said. “It’s a one-time deal to have kids like this. It’s been fun and I hope they get to end it with a championship.”