Earl Watson is not expected to be a heavy contributor. There’s your obvious statement for the day. He’s 34 years old, well over the NBA hill for most players, and has never shown a propensity for scoring. Last season with Utah, he averaged 17.3 minutes per game, but only because starting point guard, Mo Williams, missed January and February due to injury. Watson is expected to see even less court time in Portland.
That’s okay. I’ve said before that Watson is gearing up to be a basketball coach when he retires, and that his mind for the game can only help Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum grow. This is all true, but today I am less interested in what he brings to the table and more interested in how he acquired those amenities. We’ll get to the table later.
Watson attended UCLA from 1997 to 2001, and found himself with two magnificent mentors; Magic Johnson and John Wooden. Johnson provided informal guidance in the practice gym, teaching Watson to focus on making his teammates better, and a retired Wooden bent his ear from the sidelines.
Watson would visit the Wizard of Westwood on the weekends to talk about life and basketball. Though Wooden was done coaching, he was never done teaching, and he had Watson’s undivided attention:
“He taught me about things like loyalty, telling me how he wrote letters to his wife, who was deceased, and put them in an envelope under his bed. I asked him constant questions about his championship teams, about his players. I wanted to learn. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. His ability to teach planted a seed in me, and made me want to coach.”
He enjoyed his time learning at UCLA so much that when he tore a ligament in his pinky senior year, he requested to red-shirt and return the following season. His request was denied by head coach, Steve Lavin, and Watson went on to average 14.7 points, 5.2 assists, and 1.9 steals per game that year. Though he wanted to stay longer, Watson gathered valuable lessons during his time in Southern California. He was a leader.
In the NBA he played for Nate McMillan with the Super Sonics, Hubie Brown with the Grizzlies, George Karl with the Nuggets, Scott Brooks with the Thunder, Jim O’Brien with the Pacers, and Jerry Sloan with the Jazz. In his 12 NBA seasons, he has played in many systems, learned many styles, and built an impressive well of knowledge to draw from.
Now he brings his wealth of experience to Portland. There are some players who boast a similar background, but few who were paying attention along the way with intent to teach. Watson is the ideal player-coach, conglomerated with the wisdom of several basketball greats.
The Blazers will use him as a coach that wears a number, instead of a tie, and focuses on his fellow point guards. This is an amazing opportunity, since Lillard and McCollum are very young, but have arguably the most potential on the team. It is up to Watson to be his own wizard and see that they succeed.