Nick Calathes adds to burgeoning NBA roster of area players

Number of area players in NBA has grown significantly in recent seasons.

Former Lake Howell and UF basketball standout Nick Calathes made it official Wednesday, signing an NBA contract with the Memphis Grizzlies that has been in the works for weeks.

Calathes indicated his deal with the Western Conference runners-up guarantees one season. Memphis holds a team option to stretch the contract to a second season, which would bring the value to a reported $2 million. That suggests the 6-foot-6 point guard actually took a pay cut after four lucrative pro seasons in Europe to play at the game's highest level.

His move from Russia to Memphis, coupled with the the arrival of high-school and college teammate Chandler Parsons two years ago and first-round draft picks Austin Rivers last year and Shane Larkin in June, makes it nine former area high-schoolers on NBA rosters. That's proof of an incredible surge in Central Florida basketball talent over the past 25 years.

If you count lifelong Orlando native Marquise Daniels, who left Edgewater to finish high-school play in North Carolina, 16 locals have made the NBA since the Orlando Magic were born in 1989. That's 76 percent of the all-time total of 21 who have reached the old ABA or the NBA, which dates to 1946.

Red Robbins, who played for a high school that no longer exists (Groveland), broke the ice when he made the ABA as a 6-foot-8 big man in 1967.

Two more area players reached the NBA in the 1970s, Darryl Dawkins for a memorable backboard-breaking run and Stan Pietkiewicz for a short stretch.

The 1990s saw a surge, with four locals making the NBA. Vince Carter and Damien Wilkins are still in the league, and Chucky Atkins was an undrafted long shot who lasted 11 seasons.

"For the longest time, people looked at Florida as football, not basketball," said Atkins, who retired in 2011. "I know having the Orlando Magic in town opened my eyes. I had never seen a professional basketball player live until the Magic came. When a couple guys from your community make it, even though you might not know those guys, you follow them.

"Once you see it, you have a lot better feel for how to make it happen."

It's happening fast. Starting with Amar'e Stoudemire's jump from Cypress Creek to pro ball in 2002, 12 area players (counting Daniels) have gone to the NBA in the past 11 seasons.

Extra points

Close to 100 hometown fans watched Olympia grad Brad Miller make a big splash in his first Florida Major League Baseball appearance on Tuesday. Batting leadoff, the rookie shortstop homered in two of his first three at-bats to lift the Seattle Mariners to a 5-4 win against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. . . .

Atkins stayed put for a second season as Evans' coach after considering an offer to be a student assistant at his alma mater, USF. "My confidantes [at USF] assured me that door is still going to be there in the future," Atkins said. "I wanted to give the Evans job at least two years so I could make a difference." . . .

Former Groveland South Lake and Gators two-sport speedster Jeff Demps talked about making a run at a Tampa Bay Bucs roster spot as a kick returner after concluding his 2013 pro track season. As of midweek, he had not reported to the NFL camp.

bcollings@tribune.com

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