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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga’s Anton Watson selected by NBA champion Boston Celtics with 54th overall pick in 2024 Draft

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Anton Watson (22) reacts after scoring against the UCLA Bruins during the first half of a college basketball game in the Allstate Maui Invitational on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, at SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

One week ago, members of the Boston Celtics roster and front office were perched on top of duck boats parading through the city’s main roadways while celebrating an NBA-record 18th championship.

By Thursday afternoon, many had already turned their attention to the 2024-25 NBA season, which meant customary texts, calls and congratulatory messages to the team’s newest draft selections.

After a painfully stressful wait among family members and friends at the Centennial Hotel in downtown Spokane, Anton Watson was on the receiving end of those shortly after the Celtics scooped him up late in the second round, making the Gonzaga forward and former Gonzaga Prep star the 54th overall pick of the 2024 NBA Draft.

First came a phone call from general manager Brad Stevens. Then a text message from coach Joe Mazzulla. Then a correspondence from All-NBA forward Jayson Tatum, who also reached out via text.

Watson’s jitters instantly turned to joy and jubilation.

“Just leading up to the moment it was a little bit stressful,” Watson told The Spokesman-Review on Thursday evening. “I was on the phone with my agent and having my family with me, some friends. Once I told them the news, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. We just enjoyed the moment. I kind of let it set in.”

Watson helped Gonzaga set and extend a variety of program records during a standout five-year career in Spokane and the versatile forward can chalk up another after giving the Zags a draft pick for the fourth straight year, beating the previous record of three.

It also marks the second straight year the reigning NBA champion drafted a player from Mark Few’s program after the Denver Nuggets used a first-round pick on Julian Strawther in 2023.

“I really like him,” Stevens told local reporters Thursday during a post-draft news conference in Boston. “Anton’s strength and ability to move his feet laterally give him a chance to be one of these big, strong hybrid forwards that can switch, guard a lot of people.”

Watson wasn’t convinced he’d hear his name called on Thursday and therefore limited his hometown draft party to a smaller, more intimate group of family members and friends.

If he did get a call at some point, Watson had a hunch it might come from the Celtics, who were one of 16 teams to work out the productive GU forward during the pre-draft process and one of only a few teams to host him for individual workouts both last year and this year.

“I knew the Celtics liked me from pretty much last year, when I worked out with them,” Watson said. “So when I worked out with them this year, I had a good workout and talking to my agents, they said they were keeping close communication with them, they were always asking them what they were thinking of me and what other teams were talking to me. So I felt like they had their eye on me the whole time through this process.”

It didn’t hurt that Watson’s workout in Boston was one of only two he completed before suffering a minor ankle injury during a scrimmage at the G-League Elite Camp.

“They stuck with me and they believed in me,” Watson said, “so I’m going to give them everything.”

Watson doesn’t have specifics on what his role will look like with the Celtics next season or if he’ll be signed to a two-way contract, but expects to spend a fair amount of time playing with the G-League Maine Celtics and hopes to use upcoming opportunities at NBA Summer League to showcase what he can add to a Boston team that went 64-18 in the regular season and blitzed through the playoffs with a 16-3 record.

“They’re a powerhouse and they’re just solid all around,” Watson said. “Defense wise, offense wise, I feel like they had all the pieces. Even their bench was deep. It wasn’t too deep, but the dudes who come off the bench, they influence the game, they make winning plays.”

Watson’s no stranger to winning at the highest level, accumulating the best win-loss record of any college player in the 2024 NBA Draft (132-19, .874). He helped Gonzaga reach the national championship game in 2021 and played a vital role on teams that advanced to the Elite Eight (2023) and Sweet 16 (2022, 2024).

“It’s a good community they have there and it kind of reminds me of GU,” Watson said. “Just kind of the family aspect we had. What they did (last year) was crazy, but really being in this position thinking I’m going to play for the NBA champions last year, I don’t think it gets much better than that.”

Watson’s activity on the defensive end, ability to guard five positions and quick hands figure to be his most valuable traits at the NBA level and could give him the opportunity to factor in as a role player off Boston’s bench next season.

A two-time state champion at G-Prep and All-West Coast Conference First Team selection in 2023-24, Watson expanded his offensive game last year and NBA teams likely took note of his improved shooting percentages. After shooting 17% from the 3-point line his first three college seasons on a limited number of attempts, Watson boosted his percentage to 33% as a junior and made another huge jump as a senior, shooting 41% on a career-high 51 attempts from behind the arc.

Watson became a primary scorer for Gonzaga at various points last season, exploding for a career-high 32 points on 14 of 15 from the field during a 69-65 win over UCLA at the Maui Invitational before matching that total in a 77-76 road loss to Santa Clara.

“I want him to come in here with the mindset that he’s going to let him fly like he’s never let it fly before because I think he’s a better shooter than he sometimes thinks he is,” Stevens said. “So I’m looking forward to getting him in here in eight days or so.”

Watson’s selection coincided with a commercial break during ESPN’s draft coverage Thursday afternoon and the GU player’s name appeared on the screen in the middle of a Pacifico beer advertisement. He joked that could be a good omen for his professional career, noting that Nuggets center and three-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic was famously selected while a fast-food commercial was airing during the 2014 Draft.

“I’m not saying I’m Jokic, but they did the same thing to him,” Watson laughed. “They put a Taco Bell commercial on him. … Might have to get the (Pacifico) sponsor, might have to get the sponsor.”

Watson’s first name was mispronounced and he got only a brief mention from ESPN’s draft analysts before they quickly shifted their attention to the 55th overall pick, used by the Los Angeles Lakers on USC’s Bronny James, the oldest son of NBA star LeBron James.

“I think the last 10 picks they were talking about Bronny,” Watson said. “You don’t try to focus on that, but that definitely puts a chip on your shoulder. That’s crazy, I think it’s a little bit crazy.”