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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: An NBA dream realized for Anton Watson, whose road to success began more than a decade ago

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Where were we? Oh, yes. Thinking about Hoopfest. Downtown. Wandering around. Stopping occasionally. Watching kids play. Knowing one thing: Many of them will fall asleep at night dreaming about being a professional basketball player. For almost all, only a dream. For Anton Watson, who once wore their Nikes, that dream became reality Friday evening.


• While cleaning our office a few months ago, we came across a hand-written note, in pencil on a piece of lined school paper. At the top of the single page, Anton Watson had written his name.

He was 14 years old. The paper dated back to Christmas time, 2014, and covered two subjects. Individual and team goals. It was an exercise we’ve done many times with many young players over the years. Trying to get them to understand they need to become the best judges of their strengths and weaknesses if they want to reach their potential. Outside motivation and feedback is important but it is that inner voice that will be with them always, the one they have to learn to hear.

Always quiet and understated, the eighth-grade Watson kept his answers short. His individual goal was simple: Improve his free throw shooting. That shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone who watched his ensuing basketball journey through Gonzaga Prep and Gonzaga University. Neither should his team goal: Filling the gaps and being better at team defense.

Even then, Watson knew what part of the game was crucial – and his ticket forward.

The year before we had driven over to Coeur d’Alene with our friend Jim Psomas. Why? Watson’s father, Deion, wanted us to watch his son play one Saturday. What we saw was a tall seventh grader with a lot of untapped promise and potential.

But he was also just 13. Every year we coached a group of 14-year-old boys who played travel basketball in the spring and summer. We needed one more player. We decided halfway through the game it would be Anton. After, we talked with he and his dad about that entailed. Some 30 or so practices, the same number of games before August. Being challenged every day. Asked to do more than he had ever been asked. They listened. Deion spoke. We listened.

Anton? He didn’t say much, but in his quiet way, it was obvious he was up for it.

It wasn’t easy. As the summer wore on, Watson wore down. We were in Las Vegas in late July. A back gym. Somewhere just south of 100 degrees. Playing a team from Houston whose players viewed every opponent as an obstacle to their dreams. We were wilting. Until someone knocked Watson to the floor. Said something. What? We don’t know. But the Watson that came off the floor wasn’t the same one who hit it. For the first time we saw what Prep and GU fans have seen for the past decade – and what the Boston Celtics must have seen before making him the 54th pick in the 2024 NBA Draft.

He wasn’t angry, so to speak. But he was different. Focused. Determined. Still quiet of voice but louder in action.

No, we didn’t win. No, he didn’t score a bunch of points. But he was different. It was a glimpse of what was inside. What was to come.

We coached him, and two other players from that travel team, the next winter in Spokane’s tough 8th-grade AAU league. Watson and a few teammates would travel from North Idaho for practice, doing their homework en route. We practiced with another team, competing, getting better. Finding voices. It’s what youth sports is supposed to be. The group didn’t win every game. But they competed each possession. And improved, learning how to be the best player and person they could be. When the season ended, Watson, whose family had already decided to relocate to Spokane, began playing with a travel team coached by John Stockton, joining a group who would make up the core Prep’s varsity roster the next few years.

What has happened since hasn’t been surprising. Improvement, domination and team success at the high school level. The same for five years with the Zags. And now, that seventh grader with potential has grown into an NBA draft pick.

We texted Watson last night. He responded the one way anyone who came into contact with him over the years would expect. A quiet, perfect response.

He said thank you.

• Almost forgot. It’s Friday. What to watch this weekend? The NHL draft is tonight (4, ESPN) if you’re interested. From Las Vegas, ironically enough. And Hoopfest, on SWX Saturday and Sunday, with the championships in the afternoon.

Golf, soccer, the M’s in another key home series with Minnesota (all of the M’s games on Root).

But the last weekend in June is for getting outside. Enjoying the weather. Enjoying Spokane.


WSU: Jaylen Wells came to Pullman last summer an unknown quantity from Division II Sonoma State. He leaves the town an NBA draft pick. Wells was chosen 39th overall, part of Friday’s second round. Greg Woods has more in this story. … Washington State announced its most recent Hall of Fame class, adding five members including former football coach Mike Leach. Greg also has that story. … One more Pullman-centric story, this one from John Blanchette. He covers hammer thrower Brock Eager’s upcoming attempt to make the U.S. Olympic Team. … Greg has some football recruiting news as well. … John Canzano talked with outgoing WSU president Kirk Schulz and shares this Q&A. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, there is also West Coast recruiting news passed along by Wilner, as well as a story from Utah. … The Oregonian’s football numbers countdown continues with No. 66 and 65 for Oregon State and 65 for Oregon. … The Big 12 announced the pairings for the upcoming basketball schedule. We have stories from Colorado, Arizona State and Arizona on the men’s side and for the Arizona women. … Colorado had three players drafted. And still didn’t have a Pac-12 championship season. … A Utah player signed a free agent deal with Toronto. … UCLA’s Adem Bona was drafted by Philadelphia. … USC had Isaiah Collier taken in the first round Wednesday and one player drafted Thursday, Bronny James by the – checks notes – Lakers. Now that’s surprising. One more, Boogie Ellis, signed as free agent by sign as free agent with Sacramento. … Two Arizona players are joining Miami, one drafted, one a free agent. … Kelly Graves has added an assistant to the Oregon women’s staff. … The Pac-12’s demise bothers MLB players from the conference. … Finally, Wilner looks back 40 years in the Mercury News to the first court case that began the slow unravelling of the NCAA’s authority and the breakup of traditional conferences.

Gonzaga: What did the Celtics see in Watson? Theo Watson tells us in his story. “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,” according to Brad Stevens, the former Butler coach in charge of current NBA champion Boston’s front office. He also made it clear he expects Watson to enter workouts ready to shoot. “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.” Stevens said, “because I think he’s a better shooter than he sometimes thinks he is.” It’s something we can guarantee Watson has heard since at least seventh grade. … Around the WCC, Jon Wilner has a look at next basketball season, with Gonzaga his pick to finish atop the conference race, with newcomers WSU and Oregon State back in the pack. … USF’s Jonathan Mogbo went 31st in the NBA draft Thursday.

EWU and Idaho: Around the Big Sky, one player stayed in the conference for his senior season. Another transferred to Tennessee. Weber State’s Dillon Jones was the NBA’s 26th pick Wednesday, by Oklahoma City, while Dalton Knecht, who left Northern Colorado, went 17th to the Lakers.

Chiefs: It certainly seems like Berkly Catton will hear his name early in tonight’s NHL draft. Dave Nichols tells us the consensus is Catton will be taken somewhere between five and 15.

Indians: Spokane won in Everett on Thursday, topping the Aquasox 4-3. … In other Northwest League action, host Eugene topped Tri-City 8-4 and Vancouver edged visiting Hillsboro 6-5.

Velocity: Spokane is on the road Saturday, traveling to Windsor, Colo., to face the Northern Colorado Hailstorm in a Jagermeister Cup match. Ethan Myers has a preview.

Golf: We wanted to make sure we passed along a link to Jim Meehan’s column this week. He highlights the interesting season for Dave Christenson, who is playing in the U.S. Senior Open this weekend. Christenson shot an opening-round 78 on Thursday. … The USGA doesn’t seem inclined to return to Tacoma’s Chambers Bay. Now the city’s decision makers are contemplating trying to attract a LIV tournament.

Mariners: We mentioned the series this weekend with the Twins in town. When the M’s salvaged Wednesday’s final game in Tampa Bay, George Kirby was on the mound with a reworked curve ball grip. It worked. … We wanted to pass along the last part of The Athletic’s look at missing bats. It includes some thoughts on how baseball can fix its strike out problem. We agree with Hall of Famer George Brett. Launch angle is part of the problem. Brett’s mentor, Charlie Lau always preached keeping the barrel of the bat in the strike zone longer to improve contact. Fewer home runs, more baserunners. The game will adjust again. … Could a political scandal in Oakland lead to an A’s about-face?

Storm: Seattle had little trouble containing Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever as Jewell Loyd led the way with 34 points.

Seahawks: Though Russell Wilson is on his second post-Hawk team, he still gets together with DK Metcalf in the offseason for workouts.

Kraken: Who will Seattle pick?

Sounders: Not only is Seattle struggling on the pitch, it is also dealing with problems off it as well. Two starters, Raul Ruidiaz and Nouhou were suspended this week after an incident following last weekend’s come-from-behind 3-2 win. … Our house’s most-educated soccer fan was not real pleased with Tim Weah’s response to Panama’s aggressive play Thursday. The ensuing red card in the 18th minute meant the U.S. National Team would play a man down for most of its key Copa America group match. Despite the handicap, the U.S. scored the first goal but could not make it stand up in a 2-1 loss. To move on, the team may have to find a way to defeat Uruguay on Monday.

Olympics: The track and field trials continued in Eugene yesterday, with the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase team picked and prelims in other events.

Hoopfest: We also mentioned Hoopfest being this weekend, though we’re guessing most folks who read this column already knew that. The week also included Wednesday night’s Hooptown Hall of Fame inductions, covered by Justin Reed, who also has a preview of this weekend’s many Open division brackets. … There is a group of Italian youth teams in town to play in Hoopfest, part of Gonzaga University’s interaction in Italy. Virginia Carr and Marton Mezei have the story.


• We are headed downtown this weekend. But before we go, we want to pass along this story about our high school alma mater. This kind of stuff didn’t happen 50 years ago. Heck, we drove 20 minutes to school and thought it was a long drive. Then again, folks were football-crazy even then. Until later …