It took just one half of basketball to crystallize the two-plus seasons Paul Watson had played at Fresno State, the 93 games and the 2,901 minutes on the court switching between the three and the four, the position he was recruited to play and the position the Bulldogs often needed him to play.
Watson didn’t always get it, but he accepted it and every challenge that came with it, matching up against some bulkier and longer bodies in the paint.
And in that one half, the second against San Diego State in the championship of the Mountain West Tournament in March, it all came together, the four not so much a four-letter word anymore but another part of positional versatility he displayed since he was selected in 2013-14 as the conference’s Freshman of the Year. He was a three who often played the four and had the chops and savvy and skill set to score from three and also defend four positions.
Fresno State and 940 ESPN radio will hold a Meet the Teams event at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Campus Pointe.
In a late January matchup against Wyoming, coach Rodney Terry deployed the 6-foot-7 Watson on guard Josh Adams in the second half, the Bulldogs down at halftime, and the Cowboys’ offense went kaput with their star guard hitting just 3 of 12 shots.
And in the conference championship, Terry put Watson into the game at the four in the second half against forward Winston Shepard, who was getting things his way much too easily. He scored or assisted on half of the Aztecs’ makes in that game, got to the foul line and made 5 of 6 free throws. But Watson, who totaled 17 minutes in the final three regular-season games and tournament opener against UNLV coming back from an ankle injury, logged 16 minutes in the second half and helped slow them all down. From the nine-minute mark, the score tied, Shepard got just two shots and the Aztecs scored only 11 points.
“That was a tournament-on-the-line game and he came in and he anchored that thing for 16 minutes for us in the second half,” Terry said.
That also was when Watson had his view of playing the four changed, setting up what is expected to be a strong senior season that early in the year will include minutes at the four with senior forward Karachi Edo ineligible through the fall semester after falling short of NCAA continuing eligibility standards.
“It definitely kind of opened my eyes to some things and made me realize I have to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful,” Watson said.
After his injury and the subsequent struggles getting back into the lineup, if he doesn’t respond the right way, we never win the conference tournament.
Fresno State assistant coach Jerry Wainwright on Paul Watson
“I just try to be as positive as I can about any situation, any adversity that may hit the team. I feel like I’ve been here for four years. I’ve seen what it takes to win. At this point, I’ve grown and I’ve matured and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to put the team in the best situation to be successful.”
Watson always did, but playing the four might have interfered with his game in his first two seasons.
“If I had a dollar for every time I said ‘relax’ to him, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be sending you a postcard from Monte Carlo because my wife and I would have bought some seaside property,” said Jerry Wainwright, Fresno State’s lead assistant.
“I think the thing that ultimately happened was, the thing that Paul fought – certainly from a mental standpoint and maybe from a physical standpoint because he’s throwing an angular body oftentimes against bigger kids – all of a sudden he embraced. What he perceived as something that limited him, he finally recognized: Wait a minute now, that could be a strength.”
I feel like I’ve been here for four years. I’ve seen what it takes to win. At this point, I’ve grown and I’ve matured and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to put the team in the best situation to be successful.
Fresno State forward Paul Watson
The Bulldogs, eyeballing a return to the NCAA Tournament, will play to it this season starting Friday in their opener against Texas-San Antonio at Save Mart Center.
With Marvelle Harris, Julien Lewis and Cezar Guerrero gone from Fresno State’s first NCAA Tournament team since 2001, Watson will be asked to take on more of a leadership role. And, obviously, he’ll be asked to provide productive minutes whether at the four and on the floor with Cullen Russo or Terrell Carter or at the three alongside Jaron Hopkins and Jahmel Taylor.
“He’s a willing player to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful,” Terry said. “That probably hasn’t always been the case, but if you ask me about his approach, that has been the biggest change and he has had a great attitude with it. He just wants to have a successful year.
“I think some of it is just maturity, really. Paul has always been a mature guy, but just maturing as a basketball player and understanding that players at this day and time they can do anything, they can play any position, it doesn’t matter. It makes you more versatile, it makes you more marketable in the game of basketball, and I think he has really realized and accepted that.”
Getting to know you – Fresno State and local ESPN radio affiliate KFIG (AM 940) will co-sponsor a Meet the Team event with the men’s and women’s basketball teams Wednesday at Campus Pointe. The two-hour event starts at 5 p.m., with players and coaches on hand to sign autographs and take photos with fans
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO AT FRESNO STATE
- Friday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center (15,596)
- 2015-16: Bulldogs 25-10, 13-5 Mountain West; Roadrunners 5-27, 3-15 Conference USA
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themwc.com)/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)