Boston is many things. The capital of Massachusetts, the cradle of the American Revolution, a seafood lover’s paradise, and one of the biggest cities for pro sports in the country. While that last one may have brought plenty of parades to the city in the last decade and a half, it is also keeping the city from embracing one of its budding stars just miles away from Fenway Park.
Maurice Watson Jr. is the starting point guard of the first-place Boston University Terriers, but most people in the city can’t be blamed for not having heard of him. His sport occupies something of subculture in the pro-sports-driven New England market and isn’t even the biggest sport on his own campus. Agganis Arena, where Watson plies his trade as one of the best point guards in college basketball, was built for the hockey program and until this year was only his to tread on a few times a year.
Even with all of those factors seemingly stacking the deck against BU landing a player like Watson, a top-100 recruit with offers from schools like Princeton and Texas Tech, the decision has paid dividends for both the player and the program.
"Coach [Joe] Jones called me as soon as he got the job and said ‘I saw one of your games and I’m offering you,’ " Watson recalled following a win on Jan. 7 over Navy. "I called him back and told him I wanted to take my officials and he asked ‘Why when you’re just going to come here anyway? Just take a day, think about it, and call me back.’ "
Jones told Watson to list the pros and cons of all the programs he was considering. When it came to BU, he couldn’t find any negatives. All that was left was his official visit.
"We just talked for two hours," Watson remembers. "He’s one of the most genuine coaches I’ve ever been around. He didn’t tell me I was going to play 30 minutes, he didn’t tell me I was going to average 30, he didn’t tell me anything. He just guaranteed that he was going to get me better as a player."
Jones has followed through on that promise. Watson has upped his stats in every category during his sophomore season, scoring 14.2 points, 6.9 assists, 4.1 rebounds while shooting 53.7 percent from the field. That assist number is good for sixth in the country, and his 50 percent assist rate is second in the country, per KenPom.com.
Taking The Reins
Perhaps the most telling sign of Watson’s rise is his supplanting D.J. Irving as the team’s primary ball handler, no small feat considering Irving was the Patriot League’s Preseason Player of the Year. Much more of a pure point guard, the passing of the torch this year was inevitable and Irving has adjusted on the fly.
"[Irving] has been an unbelievable teammate, citizen, and student," Jones said. "Of all the kids I’ve coached, he’s in the top two-percent of unselfishness as both a person and a player. He helped recruit Mo Watson, and he had been the point guard. He’s just exceptional."
With such a talented attacking ball handler now pushed to the wing, BU’s offense never stops moving. Watson’s head is always on a swivel, always looking for someone else to finish the play.
"He’s one of the best passers I’ve ever seen," said fellow sophomore Nathan Dieudonne. "He’s always looking for other and people and it’s crazy -- he’ll make these passes where he’s up in the air, looking this way and the ball is over there...and you’re kinda like ‘what’s going on?’ But that’s what he does and he’s good at it."
Just like he does with the basketball, Watson is quick to give the compliments right back.
"Everything I get is from my teammates. If they aren’t making shots I look bad. These guys pump me up. There are games when I’m having the worst game and [Dieudonne] will come up and be like ‘fix your face, you can’t be out there looking like this,’ " Watson said. "I wouldn’t be here without my teammates."
The scary part of all of this, even scarier than the fact that the Terriers haven’t really been pushed in the Patriot League yet, is that if Jones is to follow through on his promise Watson will be even better next season. He sees his defense as a piece of his game that still needs improvement, although he averages 1.9 steals per game. His 32 percent clip from three is a bit below average, but to complain about those two facets of his game is grabbing at straws.
As he matures under Jones, one can only hope that the BU coach can stay true to his word. If that continues to be the case, people in Boston -- and across the country -- will have no choice but to turn their heads toward Comm Ave., the Terriers, and Maurice Watson Jr.