- National Teams
Neil Watson is already proving an astute acquisition for Leicester Riders in his rookie season and is targeting success in the BBL.
The Southern Miss graduate made the trip across the Atlantic to begin his professional career, and has made a bright start in the opening few months.
“The BBL has been pretty tough,” he admitted. “The physicality is at a higher level, but I think I’ve settled pretty well. I’m pleased with my numbers, and I think I can still play harder and improve areas of my game.
“I still have a lot to learn about being a pro. It’s not too different from college, though, because hard work is hard work.”
Watson is averaging 20.1 points (league-high) and 6.4 assists (2nd) in 11 league games so far with a shooting percentage of 37.9 from 3-point range.
It soon became clear that Watson is a more than capable threat from beyond the arc, as he had shown during his college career with the Golden Eagles, and there is certainly no reluctance to pull the trigger.
Head Coach Rob Paternostro clearly has faith in his recruit and spoke prior to the season about Watson’s ‘ability to make the big shot’, which has been evident on a number of occasions already.
A few weeks back, the 23-year-old had a shaky start in the game against Glasgow – missing his first 8 attempts from long range. However, instead of shying away, Watson stepped up hitting some big shots in the second half on his way to a season-high 25 points.
“Me shooting is definitely a confidence thing, he said. “I put in the time so missing is natural and doesn’t mean stop shooting. And Coach plays a major role with my confidence. He gives me the freedom to play and trusts me, like I trust him.”
It’s not just his shooting that makes Watson a valuable asset. The Kansas native is assured in possession and the aforementioned 6.4 assists per game come at a cost of just 2.2 turnovers per game.
Pressure is often asserted on the shoulders of imports as they arrive in the BBL with high-expectations, but Watson is relishing the task of being a leader.
“The only role I look to obtain is that of a good general. I want to be able to lead my team-mates to victory night in, night out.”
With an overseas venture, comes the strain of leaving loved ones behind. Watson is no different, but his will to succeed is strong. Winning is paramount.
“I don’t have any goals except winning,” he said. “I figure that if we keep winning, accomplishments will come.”
One of the four possible trophies is now out of reach after Leicester suffered an agonising quarter-final defeat to Glasgow, ending their 2-year hold on the BBL Cup. Watson seemed to have given the Riders victory with a pair of clutch free throws, only to be downed by Kieron Achara’s ridiculous game-winner at the buzzer.
“It hurt,” Watson recalled. “But it is a part of the game and sometimes that happens. On the other hand, our buzzer-beater (against Cheshire) felt great, because we should have lost that game.”
The league challenge is still going strong, and the Riders are in a solid position – currently fourth with a 9-2 record. A couple of changes were made following their loss to London, with American TrayVonn Wright replacing Derrick Roland, and Yorrick Williams coming in for another spell with the club.
“I am pleased (so far),” Watson said giving his assessment. “I still think there is room for improvement within our team, but we work hard every day to better the places we are weakest..
“It’s unfortunate we lost Derrick Roland, but it’s a part of the business and I believe TrayVonn Wright will help us in clutch time for silverware.”
With Watson anchoring the offence, the Riders have one of the league’s top point guards at their disposal and the rookie will look to guide his side to more BBL glory.
Image credit: Matthew Withers Photography