The Watson family modified its Gonzaga game-day routine this season with COVID-19 protocols preventing in-person attendance at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The game plan has been for everyone to gather at the family home, grab a bite to eat and watch sophomore forward Anton Watson and the top-ranked Zags on the 55-inch big screen TV.
“It’s like a full event at the house, which is different,” said Deon Watson, Anton’s father and a former University of Idaho basketball standout. “The kids (son Deon and daughter Haile) have their own places but they always come back.
“We’re kind of superstitious. We always watch the games together and they keep winning and Anton plays well if we watch together.”
It’s a big change from last season when it went more like this: Deon and Anna making the 5-minute walk from the house to the Kennel, maybe stopping to grab some dinner at Jack and Dan’s along the way, and joining 6,000 inside a packed, noisy arena.
A text last week from Anton signaled a return to last year’s routine, sans the 6,000 fans.
“Anton texted in a family group text, ‘Anybody interested in coming to the game next week?’ ” said Deon, excitement building in his voice. “ ‘Hell, yeah, put me down.’ I don’t know how many can go, but we’re trying to get the four of us.”
Gonzaga can have 200 in attendance, beginning with Thursday’s contest against rival Saint Mary’s, after the state recently eased COVID-19 restrictions. Players, coaches, officials, game-day staff and media typically account for roughly 125.
There will still be limited numbers in the seats, but it should make a difference.
“Anton just says it’s been tough and it’s different because they have to find their own energy,” Deon said. “Playing at Gonzaga, that’s a huge part, feeding off that student section. They’ve had to depend on the players and the bench to bring some energy because it’s just you, your team and the other team.
“Every time I talk to Anton he tells me, ‘I just wanna win the championship.’ It’ll be nice to be in there supporting those guys.”
The Watsons became friends with Drew Timme’s parents last season. Timme and Watson were part of GU’s 2019 recruiting class.
The Watsons also spent time with Killian Tillie’s parents, Laurent and Caroline. Both were standout volleyball players and Laurent coached son Kevin on the French national team. Both families made a mark in athletics.
Haile Watson played one season at Eastern Washington before completing her volleyball career at Fresno State, earning All-Mountain West honors in 2018. Deon Jr., a standout wide receiver at Idaho, had 140 receiving yards in the Vandals’ 61-50 win over Colorado State in the 2016 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“It seems like we were always sitting near (the Timmes) last year at games,” Deon said. “We hung out with Killian’s parents a lot when they came over from France. I played (pro basketball) overseas and Anna and (Caroline) started talking and they hit it off, talking about volleyball and Haile.”
Deon took time off from work with Gonzaga expected to play in Spokane on the first weekend of the 2020 NCAA Tournament, but March Madness was sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That was so unfortunate,” said Deon, who hopes to attend this year’s tournament in Indianapolis. “I was going to spend the whole week (at the Spokane Arena).”
Deon helped coach Anton’s teams until seventh grade. Anton, who led Gonzaga Prep to a pair of State 4A titles, was limited to 15 games last season by a recurring shoulder injury that required surgery. He’s shooting 74.7% inside the 3-point arc and averages 7.6 points and 4.0 rebounds as a sophomore.
“I love watching them play,” Deon said. “The most important part is it looks like they’re all having fun out there. When they’re sharing the ball, it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
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