The fact that guard Maurice Watson Jr. even came to Boston University is a bit of a surprise to begin with. Coming out of high school, Watson was one of the top-100 players in the country, according to ESPN. He had offers from Texas Tech University and Princeton University, among other schools.
But he came to Commonwealth Avenue and immediately became the Terriers’ primary point guard and best ballhandler, supplanting team leader D.J. Irving in both roles. In his freshman year in 2012-13, Watson averaged 11.2 points, 5.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game, while shooting 46.3 percent from the field. This season, he improved every facet of his game, averaging 13.3 points, 7.1 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. He also shot an strong 49.5 percent from the field. After the regular season, he was named a member to the First Team All-Patriot League.
Watson recently announced that he will transfer from Boston University to Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. He’ll have to sit out the 2014-15 season, as per NCAA rules.
What does the loss of Watson mean to Boston University? Well, the Terriers are losing the best point guard they’ve had in quite a long time. And it’s not like Irving will be able to reprise his point guard role; he’s graduating. BU fans, the miniscule number that actually go to basketball games, won’t get to see the sheer chaos and energy that Watson injects into a fast break ever again. I’ve never seen someone that fast in person. He runs like he has a jetpack strapped to his ass. That’s the biggest thing I’ll miss about Watson; on every miss by the opponent (and some made baskets too) he runs as if he is being chased by wolves, weaving in-and-out between defenders and consistently making the right play while the opponent is caught off-guard.
More importantly, Watson’s decision to transfer is representative of the plight of the mid-major school nowadays. BU, as a mid-major, just isn’t as attractive for players and coaches alike as much as Big East Conference schools like Creighton. Granted, until this year, Creighton was a mid-major. But they decided to make the jump to the Big East, and had one of the most successful seasons in program history.
I think Watson’s good enough to succeed at Creighton. He might not be All-First Team Big East — he’s generously listed at 5-foot-10, he’s not a great 3-point shooter and he turns the ball over at a high rate. But, he’ll get more exposure on a national stage, and perhaps draw more attention from the NBA, NBA Developmental League and international scouts.
In today’s game, that’s really all that major college basketball is about. The players aren’t student athletes at all. The NCAA is merely a spawning ground for NBA talent, and those not good enough for the NBA are desperate to find somewhere else to play after their college years come to an end.
BU has to examine its standing as a mid-major when it comes to basketball. The size of the school dictates a move to a major conference. Duke University, which plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference, has about 6,000 undergraduates. BU has nearly 16,000. I’m not saying that size of the student body is the only determinant of standing in a conference.
The main problem is that BU, and its students, just don’t really care about basketball compared to how much they care about hockey. That’s distressing; especially in a city with an NBA team that has the tradition and history of the Boston Celtics.
The hockey team gets far more press than the basketball team, which is strange considering that the hockey team went 10-21-4 and wasn’t close to making the NCAA tournament, while the basketball team went 24-11 and came within one game of making March Madness. Is it just me, or does this not make any sense at all?
So I can’t really blame Watson for leaving, not at all. He was, by any statistical measure, one of the top-10 point guards in the country this year. And no one at BU really cares, outside of the basketball team and a handful of fans. At Creighton, he’ll find a population of basketball-crazy fans, who will revere him for his exploits and sympathize with his failures.
Basketball players, perhaps more than any other athletes, have a unique, symbiotic relationship with the crowd at a game. Basketball is a free-flowing, fast-paced sport that is at times ruled by momentum.
When a player gets hot, he can turn the tide of a game in a matter of minutes. And the crowd, which is practically right next to the court, creates an atmosphere that rises and falls with each play.
When a great player like Maurice Watson is on a hot streak, the crowd should shower him with appreciation. He couldn’t get that feeling here at BU, and I hope he gets it at Creighton. He deserves it.