Q+A: CJ Watson
The Nets guard dishes on signing with Brooklyn, finding his footing with a new squad and his youth foundation.
In June of 2006, CJ Watson’s agent presented his young client with some pretty uplifting information: He told a hopeful Watson that the then-22-year-old guard out of the University of Tennessee would be drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the very last pick of the ’06 Draft. Unfortunately, Watson watched the Draft with friends and family in his Las Vegas home, only to see the Pistons use the 60th pick to select…Will Blalock, a 6-1 guard from Boston. “It was pretty heartbreaking,” he says. “But hey, I just learned from it.”
Watson went to play overseas—in Greece, then Italy—then came back and hooped in the D-League until he was called up by the Warriors in 2008. Golden State was good to Watson—he spent two and a half seasons there, and he’s close friends with some of his GSW teammates (Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, to name a few) to this day. Then in 2010 he was sign-and-traded to the Bulls, eventually becoming an integral piece of the Bench Mob, the group of Bulls reserves with a nickname Watson himself made up. “I actually stole it from teammates in Tennessee,” he says. “That was the name we had for our bench in Tennessee, and the bench in Chicago was playing well. One day one of the reporters asked for a name, and that was the first thing that came to mind. It just stuck.”
This past off-season, Watson signed a two-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets, and has since found a steady role spelling Deron Williams as the squad’s back-up point guard. He recently stopped by the SLAM office in midtown Manhattan to speak on all things Nets, his youth foundation, his hometown and plenty more.
SLAM: Over the summer, when you hit free agency, were the Nets one of the franchises you were specifically looking to sign with?
CJ Watson: It just happened. It wasn’t like when I left Chicago I knew I would come here. It’s just what came out of the woodworks.
SLAM: Were you immediately excited about the opportunity?
CJ: Yeah. It was a new team, they had a whole bunch of new players, so hopefully they would try to make a Playoff push. The team on paper was already a Playoff team, so I figured that it would be a good idea to come here.
SLAM: Did you any of your new teammates immediately reach out?
CJ: I spoke to Deron [Williams] a couple of times, and Coach [Avery] Johnson a couple times as well.
SLAM: What was your relationship like with Avery?
CJ: It was OK. I mean, we didn’t talk a lot, but it was just communicating when I was out there on the court—the plays he wanted to run and stuff like that.
SLAM: What was your reaction when he got fired? Did you get the sense that things weren’t right and that a change was coming?
CJ: Well, once we started losing I knew things weren’t right. Then certain things happened, and it was clear that something was going to change, and that was the change that they made.
SLAM: People always talk about the idea of a head coach losing the locker room—did you notice that start to happen at all?
CJ: I think so, a little bit. As a coach or a player, you can always tell when things are starting to go sour and sideways. So I knew something was going to change, and he was the change.
SLAM: Who’s the funniest guy on the team?
CJ: Funniest is probably Keith [Bogans]. He’s always joking around, always getting everyone in a calm mood. Either him or Reggie [Evans].
SLAM: Who controls the locker room’s music?
CJ: It’s probably gonna be either Keith of [Jerry] Stackhouse. Stackhouse, because he is the oldest.
SLAM: Is that like an earned right?
CJ: Yeah man, you have to pay your dues. So most of the time it’s him, Keith, or maybe Reggie.
SLAM: Stackhouse seems like the nicest guy, but he’s gone off on a couple of opponents in the past. What’s he like off the floor?
CJ: He’s a really nice guy. I think people just see more of his bad side.
SLAM: And that’s a terrible place to be?
CJ: Yeah. You don’t want to be on Stack’s bad side.
SLAM: After a rough stretch in December, the Nets are starting to pick up some speed. What do you think you guys need to do to take the team to the next level?
CJ: I think just defense, basically. I think we can score with anybody in the League, but if we want to be a Playoff team that can get to the second or third round, we have to play defense really well.
SLAM: You’ve said that on the Bulls last year, everyone in the Bench Mob knew their specific roles. Do you have that mindset in Brooklyn?
CJ: I’m still trying to figure that out here. There are a lot of new teammates, a new system and now another new coach. I’m trying to see what he wants and what my teammates need. Hopefully I have it all down by the All-Star break.
SLAM: Tell me about the foundation you’ve set up.
CJ: It’s a foundation my parents and I started three years ago. When I was growing up my parents and I always worked at homeless shelters and churches helping the less fortunate. I thought that since I’m in a position to do give back again now, I should. That’s what the foundation is all about.
SLAM: What are you guys doing with it these days?
CJ: We have a free basketball camp in the summers for kids back in Vegas, we have a back-to-school event with free supplies for the kids, and we also have a essay contest during Black History Month. It’s doing good right now. Hopefully we just keep getting bigger and bigger.
SLAM: You go back to Vegas for the camp?
CJ: Yeah, I go back for it every summer.
SLAM: That must be cool, having your own camp years after you probably would’ve attended one in that same area when you were younger.
CJ: It’s cool because I never had an NBA player where I’m from or from my city to look up to or model myself after, so to see the smiles on these kids’ faces, to know that they watch the games and cheer for the team I play for, it’s pretty cool.
SLAM: There weren’t any local Las Vegas legends that you looked up when you were growing up?
CJ: Not when I was growing up, no. Robert Smith is from Vegas and he played in the League for like 10 years. He played at UNLV. I still talk to him, and he works at my camp and all that. He’s the biggest sports icon from Vegas I had.