Nate Watson is enjoying a senior season to remember (Photo: Georgetown Athletics)
By KEVIN McNAMARA
The games are the toughest part of this college basketball season for Nate Watson.
That’s Nate the Father, not Nate the Son.
There are all sorts of parents in the college hoops pipeline, some first class, others bordering on outrageous and a few with precious little clue. Nate Watson, Sr., knows and loves basketball and that’s why this pandemic season is ripping at his gut.
“The anxiety is through the roof,” said the Dad of Providence College’s bruising big man. “I can barely watch on TV, I get so hyped up. It’s hard.’’
Everyone with a child can sympathize with Watson. Imagine if your kid grew into a 6-foot-10, 260 pound rock and began kicking butt and taking names in the Big East. Then, once he reached a breakout senior season, you were unable to see your son play in person.
“I live in New Jersey and take the Peter Pan bus to the games in Providence,” Watson said. “I sit in the same spot (behind PC’s bench) at the Dunk and he’ll look for me in the warmups and wink. I know he appreciates me being there.’’
Those moments are lost this season but who can pick their time to shine? This is young Nate Watson’s time, and he’s shining. Watson is averaging 16.7 points on 60 percent shooting. He grabs 6.7 rebounds a game and is seeing more double-teams than ever.
“The main thing is my confidence and how my confidence has built up,” said the younger Watson. “I’m healthy and where I need to be with my speed and strength.”
NATE WATSON’S CAREER STATS AT PC
|2017-18||13.8 MPG||6.8 PPG||59% FG||1.9 Reb|
That this breakout season has come without seeing his father courtside is simply a Covid thing. Like any 21-year old, unfortunate developments like this seem to roll off Watson’s broad shoulders but after not seeing either of his parents since August, there is definitely a void in his life.
“He comes to literally all the games, you always hear his voice. I know I do,” Watson said. “And I love the Dunk. It’s so different playing games in Alumni (Hall).”
Getting into optimum shape and preparing for his season senior was a challenge for Watson. He left PC last March once the Big East Tournament – and a likely NCAA Tournament berth – went up in smoke. He went home to live with his mother, Christie, in Chesapeake, Va., and some close family friends in Vienna, Va. With gyms closed for months, Watson worked out by himself on a nearby outdoor court and eventually found his way into a Planet Fitness to continue sculpting his body.
That monotonous pace continued all summer as PC kept its campus closed. That robbed the Friars of a valued opportunity to form the necessary team bonds but when the players finally returned to Rhode Island in late August, Ed Cooley was thrilled that his big man was ready for action. “Nate came back in the best shape of his life. He was ready for a big season,” the coach said.
The Nate Watson the Big East is struggling to deal with is the one that Watson’s father envisioned when he left Bishop O’Connell High for Providence. Cooley recruited Watson hard and told pals that he saw some skills that reminded him of an All-Big East pick he once coached at Boston College, Craig Smith. Watson owned an impact from his first collegiate game, but hardly starred. He split time with Kalif Young for three years, acting as the offensive pop to Young’s defense and rebound work. A knee injury in the fall of 2019 slowed some development but that’s simply the cost of doing business.
“Nate’s a positive kid, but that’s probably because of my military background,” Watson, Sr. said. “What I’ve always told him was `it can always be worse.’ That’s what I learned after going to Iraq a couple of times. It’s hard to get Nate rattled.”
The impact Watson is making on the floor now is significant. He’s as powerful as any low post player in the Big East and seems like a shoe-in for All-Conference honors. “Coach Cooley told us he’d take care of Nate and teach him the game of basketball. What I see on TV right now is he’s developed into a great player,” Watson said.
What makes Nate Watson, Sr. a different kind of PC parent is his boundless enthusiasm. He wears a Friar jersey at most games, offers encouragement with a loud voice and dances on the social media scene as well.
“I love going up to Providence. I’ve met a lot of fantastic people,” Watson said. “They see me in the stands and just come over to say hello. I’m met a lot of fans on Twitter as well. I talk to everyone. I’m a social person.”
That leaves one more question. Will Watson ever step foot in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center again? The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to every college basketball player, even seniors. Watson is on time to graduate with a degree in Social Science in the spring but would he consider enrolling in graduate school and returning for another season?
“I wouldn’t be opposed to coming back,” he said, “but I’m not opposed to seeing what my options are either. It’s kind of up in the air right now. I know I want to work out for (NBA) teams if I could. Whatever is going to be best for me at the end of the day.”
Watson can certainly earn a paycheck playing basketball next season, if not in the NBA than somewhere in the world. But he admits that there is a large piece of his senior season missing this winter, from the exhilarating moments of competition in packed Big East arenas to getting the chance to just hang with his biggest fan after a tough loss.
“Not having my father at the games is tough. I know he misses them and I miss not having him and all the fans at the Dunk,” he said. “We all miss it. Hopefully he can come to the Big East Tournament. Right now that looks good. That would be great.’’