Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Maurice Watson, Jr. has learned how to deal with negativity. He always heard it from those who said he was too small, that a 5-foot-9 guard from Boys’ Latin couldn’t be successful in college. From those who questioned whether his creative, free-flowing style could translate at the next level.
And he hears it from his former high school coach–his father, Maurice Watson, Sr.–every day.
“Oh my god, no praise, all critique,” Watson told CoBL on Sunday after his Boston University squad dropped a close game to Saint Joseph’s. “Definitely keeps me hungry, doesn’t let me settle, even if I don’t want to hear it. He does a good job.”
Under the tutelage of his father, Watson had one of the most prolific careers in Public League history, joining a very exclusive club with 2,000 points in his prep career. Only Wilt Chamberlain, Tyrone Garland and Maureece Rice accomplished the same feat; only Rice (2,681 points) finished with more than Watson’s 2,356. He came to Boston University a top-100 recruit, turning down high-major offers to head to the America East.
Sunday’s game, played just a few miles from the Boys’ Latin Charter campus in West Philadelphia, was Watson’s first official game in the city since graduating high school in 2012. Along with the other three Philadelphia natives on the Terriers, Watson had plenty of friends and family in the stands to cheer him on.
There were clearly a few nerves early. An out-of-control drive through the lane resulting in a missed layup and an early turnover by the sophomore helped Saint Joseph’s get out to an early lead.
“I didn’t have my legs, I didn’t have my breath, so I was just nervous,” he admitted. “Once I scored my first basket, that’s when I settled down.”
Just like he did at Boys’ Latin, Watson got his points in a variety of ways. There were a few flashy layups, a floater or two and the occasional mid-range jumper as well. He would finish with 21 points, adding seven assists as well in a losing effort.
“It was great, I loved it,” he said. “The crowd, a lot of family, a lot of friends that came out to support me, and it’s just the highlight of my career right now.
“I don’t like to look ahead for many games, but I do love playing in Philly and for it to be the first time, the jitters were running high and just being able to come out and give them a good show, even though we didn’t get the W, it made it worth it.”
Watson is one of four players on the BU roster who played their high school basketball within eight miles of Hagan Arena. The other three are all seniors–Dom Morris and Travis Robinson (Friends Central), and D.J. Irving (Archbishop Carroll). Morris is second on the team in scoring at 12.4 ppg and leads the team in rebounding at 7.0 rpg. Robinson is one of the first players off the bench, giving head coach Joe Jones a versatile wing who’s averaging 5.6 ppg and 2.4 rpg.
And while Morris and Robinson have certainly helped Watson get comfortable in his two years up on Commonwealth Avenue, it’s the other member of the BU starting backcourt who’s provided the most guidance since he began his college career.
“When I struggled, I always went to [Irving] for advice and he does a good job of keeping me settled, keeping me poised,” Watson said. “And in return it’s making him come to me for things.
“I know I can always depend on him after he leaves, after he graduates, it’s just one of the relationships that’s going to keep building and building and it’s going to make me a better player, so a lot of credit goes to him.”
Patriot League voters selected Irving, a 6-2 guard who’s averaging 12.3 ppg and 2.8 rpg, as the preseason Player of the Year in the conference. So far it looks like they might have picked the wrong Terrier.
Watson has emerged as one of the top players in the Patriot League in just his sophomore season, where he’s leading the Terriers with 15.0 ppg, a number good enough for sixth in the conference. His 6.5 assists per contests are tops in the Patriot, he’s second in steals per game (2.1), third in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9:1) and his field-goal percent (57.3) is sixth as well.
“The biggest change in my game is just being able to look at the criticism that people are giving me,” he said. “Watching a lot of film and not being able to get upset at what I don’t do well, just looking at what I do well and what I don’t do well and getting better at that.”
“He’s learned a ton, he’s gotten better, he’s gotten more confident,” Jones said. “He’s a very good player, he’s gotten better and better and he loves to compete. I’ve been pleased with his play.”
Jones is building something positive up in Boston, with a few talented transfers in Eric Fanning (Wagner) and Blaise Mbargorba (SMU) waiting to make a big impact next year while St. Anthony guard Cheddi Mosely is committed for the Class of 2014.
The former Columbia coach, who took over at BU from Pat Chambers after Chambers was hired at Penn State, won 33 games in his first two years (23-9 in the America East Conference) and expectations are even higher now. The Terriers were picked to win the Patriot League in their debut season, heavy expectations for a team that is certainly taking a step up in competition into a league that’s got seven or eight teams with legitimate hopes of winning an NCAA berth come March.
But being back in Philadelphia certainly had Watson a little nostalgic.
“I love coach Jones and that’s why I chose to play for him, but I do miss playing for my dad, I’m not going to lie about that,” he said. “This is just a time in life where you can’t have everything the same. You’ve got to make changes, you’ve got to grow up, and not having my dad makes me miss him–but he prepared me well.”