Standing 5-10 on a good day and 170 pounds soaking wet, Creighton’s Maurice Watson Jr has never been one to have the bets placed in his favor.
For the past 18 years of his basketball career, critics have attempted to place him into the box of being “too small” to succeed. Attending a small public high school in Philadelphia—where negative peer pressure devours the majority of inner-city youth—did not seem to help either.
But the dynamic point guard has responded by shattering any semblance of limitation placed upon his shoulders. Hard work, dedication and a solid support system have propelled him into becoming not only the second-leading scorer in Philadelphia Public League history, but one of the very best point guards in the Big East.
I caught up with the Blue Jays’ floor general after his long-awaited return to Philadelphia last week in a matchup against then-No. 3-ranked Villanova.
SLAM: Talk about your experience being able to come back home and play in front of your family friends for just the second time in your collegiate career.
Maurice Watson Jr: It was good. You always get that confidence being able to look into the crowd and see your mom and dad, and get those nods of reassurance. Especially being as far away from home as I am, it just makes me feel comfortable and reminds me of how I played growing up with them at every game supporting me. Also, being able to play against Villanova was big for me.
SLAM: Speaking of playing against Villanova, its an interesting story of how you ended up in the Big East. You made a controversial decision to transfer from Boston University after stellar freshman and sophomore campaigns. What went into that decision?
MWJ: Me not making it to the NCAA Tournament in my first two years really had an impact on my decision, because as a player, you want to be able to impress people on the biggest stage. My dream has also always been to make it to the NBA. I felt like if I transferred to a bigger school, I would give myself a better opportunity to fulfill that dream. At the same time though, it was difficult because I felt Boston was a great fit for me and I had to sit out a year after transferring, which I’ve never done.
SLAM: The decision drew some criticism from people around the collegiate basketball world, with doubts of you being able to play in the Big East due to your size. How did those criticisms affect you?
MWJ: It’s honestly something that I’ve grown very very very accustomed to. I’ve always gotten the “he’s too short” and “he’s too small” talk. There has always been someone trying to me knock me down or doubt what I’m able to do; even though I’ve continued to prove it on the court day in and day out. With that being said, I hear it all and I embrace it because I just use it to help myself become a better player.
SLAM: What would you say were some of your biggest adjustments both on and off the court since arriving at Creighton?
MWJ: Off the floor, I realized that you can’t do everything that you want to do because of the eyes that are on you. There is no NBA team here, so Creighton is the beloved team in the area. So, you have to be on your best behavior at all times because everyone knows who you are. On the court, I had to really get used to the length and focus on getting stronger. I had to make sure that I put myself in position through my preparation to be able to play at a school and in a conference like this.
SLAM: You’ve often talked about how last season, which was the year you sat out, was a major challenge personally. Why was that and how were you able to overcome it?
MWJ: Coach [Greg McDermott] told me when I got to Creighton that it would be the toughest year of my life, and he wasn’t lying. Not only was I sitting out, but I had a lot going on at home and had to help with my little brother going to school at the University of Nebraska Omaha. I also broke my foot during that year, and there was a time where I had to sit back and ask myself if I really loved this game enough to keep pushing. On the flip side of that, last year was also the time I rediscovered my love for the game. It was the first time that I realized that I had to go without it because I was always so used to just playing, that it was part of my everyday routine. So when you suddenly don’t have that, it makes you appreciate the game much more and it’s the reason I’m having success now.
SLAM: To that point, Coach McDermott named you team captain this season, your first actually playing for the team. What did you do to earn the trust of not just your coach but your teammates to earn that title?
MWJ: It’s funny because it’s been said that I’m the first player at Creighton to ever be named captain before playing a game. When I approached Coach Mac about it, he challenged me this past summer to show that I could be focused and that I would have my teammate’s best interest at heart. So, I really paid attention to keeping my grades right, staying out of trouble, getting in the gym, and being coachable and it all worked out.
SLAM: You’ve had some pretty big performances this year, including a win against No. 18 Butler where you went for 20 points and 6 assists. Which game this year did you feel like you had proven your doubters wrong about your place as a point guard in the Big East?
MWJ: I’d say the Seton Hall game. It was a game that I had complete control over. We had a lead and had to protect it on the road which is always tough in the Big East. What stood out though was the fact that I had more assists than anything (14) and as a point guard, that’s what you play for.
SLAM: Being a Philadelphia native and watching the 76ers as a child; explain the influence Allen Iverson had on you as a kid.
MWJ: He’s the reason I picked up a basketball and continue to play to this day. I’ve always admired his toughness and the fact that he had so many odds against him with his size. He’s been able to defy all of those odds and it’s something that I try to apply to myself every day.