As the only NBA player in the Rocky Top Summer League, C.J. Watson
faces considerable pressure each time he takes the floor. Naturally, his elevated status brings out the best in opposing players who are looking to brag "I took the pro guy off the dribble" or "I blocked the pro guy's shot."
Given this circumstance, Watson might feel tempted to showboat a bit. That wasn't his style during his college career at Tennessee, however, and it isn't his style now that he's a three-year NBA veteran for the Golden State Warriors.
In Wednesday night's RTSL action, for instance, he attempted just 10 shots and scored a mere 11 points. The 6-2 point guard ran his team's offense so smoothly, however, that Richardson Construction rolled to a 124-97 defeat of First Tennessee Bank.
Watson has produced some nifty no-look and behind-the-back passes in the summer league but he makes plays so effortlessly that they generally attract little attention. An exception occurred Wednesday night, when he executed a crossover dribble so abruptly that it caused the guy trying to guard him - Tennessee sophomore Skylar McBee - to tumble onto his backside.
The play brought oooohs, ahhhhs and a few chuckles from the crowd at Bearden High School Gym, yet Watson's expression never changed. That's typical. He plays every possession with a poker face, whether his team is up by 20, down by 20 or tied. That's how the nickname "Quiet Storm" originated.
A lot of folks probably wonder why an NBA-caliber player would consider participaing in the Rocky Top Summer League. Watson has a ready answer.
"I'm back here to finish my classes (at UT)," he said. "This is a chance to keep in game shape and keep my game up to par."
Coming off the grind of an 82-game NBA regular season, you'd think Watson might struggle to focus in a summer league where styling and profiling often take precedence over teamwork and execution. He says that isn't the case, however.
"It's not that hard to focus," he said. "I just go out there to play, get better and win some games."
This serious approach enabled Watson to successfully make the transition from college ball to pro ball. He believes one key factor separates the quality collegians who earn spots on NBA rosters from those who don't.
"I think it's hard work," he said. "You can have all the ability and talent in the world, but you've got to keep working hard to get better every day and every year."
Determination helps, too. Overlooked in the 2006 NBA Draft, Watson played briefly in the NBA summer league and then in Europe. He attended the Charlotte Bobcats camp in the fall of '07 but was cut. Undaunted, he joined the NBA Developmental League and played so well that the Warriors signed him on Jan. 8, 2008. He posted career-high marks in points (10.3 per game), assists (2.8 per game), minutes (27.5 per game) and field-goal percentage (46.8) in 2009-10, earning 15 starts along the way.
Clearly, Watson's perseverance has paid dividends.
"I always knew I was good enough to make it," he said. "I never DIDN'T believe I could play in the NBA, so I kept trying until I got in."
Overcoming some setbacks on that journey made C.J. Watson a better player and a better man.
"I learned a lot about fighting through adversity," he said. "I worked on things they (NBA coaches) said I wasn't good enough at. At the end of the day, it's all about how good you are at the next level."
In addition to playing far more games than college teams, NBA teams play at a far different pace.
"The speed of the game is a lot faster," Watson said. "And you've got to be a lot smarter to play in the NBA. You can't just play off instinct. You've got to think the game and be physically ready for the game."
Four members of Tennessee's 2009-10 team are eligible for tonight's 2010 NBA Draft. Watson has some advice for them:
"Just keep working hard. Go to camp in shape. Be ready. Have your game up to par and be physically prepared."
The guy known as "Quiet Storm" clearly has a quiet confidence.