Watts basks on UNC bench

DETROIT

Justin Watts' stat line had more zeroes than an AIG bonus check. No points, shots, free throws, rebounds, assists or steals.

He couldn't have cared less.

North Carolina had defeated Oklahoma on Sunday to advance to the Final Four. Moreover, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams had played Watts not during scrub time, but in the waning minutes of the first half.


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"It was a rush of adrenaline," Watts said. "Most people don't ever get the chance to play in an Elite Eight game their whole career. To do it as a freshman and for Coach Williams to have confidence to put me in the game meant a lot and was a great opportunity."

So why write about a seldom-used freshman on a roster replete with NBA prospects? Because he's the son of a former Peninsula star who never reached college basketball's elite.

Gregory Watts averaged 20.8 points for Menchville High as a senior in 1975-76, third in the Peninsula District behind Phoebus' Boo Williams and Hampton's Art Jones. Williams and Jones graduated to basketball prominence at Saint Joseph's and North Carolina State, respectively.

Watts, a 6-foot-4 guard like his son, faded into obscurity, beset with what the Daily Press then described as eligibility problems. Even a hoops maven such as Boo didn't realize that Watts competed for Troy State in Alabama — Justin has seen some grainy footage.

"Gay-Gay Watts could play," Boo said, using the nickname of Watts' youth. "He was probably the third-best player in the district after me and Art. He could jump out of the gym."

The DP's season preview concurred, saying "the jumping-jack antics of Greg Watts may make this the year for (Menchville)."

A photo of a beaming Watts posing in his No. 34 jersey accompanied the story.

Despite his talents, Watts made only honorable mention all-district. This because he was suspended for six games.

Greg Watts — some of his siblings still live in Hampton Roads — could not be reached, but Justin said his dad, a personal trainer, taught him the game and "schooled me in the yard my first couple of years."

Greg and his wife, Linda, raised Justin and his younger brother, Jonovan, in Durham, N.C., a long jump shot from North Carolina's Chapel Hill campus. Justin grew up a Tar Heels fan, but his outstanding play at Jordan High School didn't prompt quite that level of recruiting attention.

"His father has really pushed him to improve," Jordan coach Kim Annas told me last spring. "Some parents want to coach from the bleachers, but not Greg. He's very supportive.

"Justin is a quality player, a quality student and a quality person. He has excellent grades, attitude and work ethic."

"Academics have always been big in our house," Watts said. "My mother's real strict on it. Even though I'm not living at home, she still calls me to make sure I'm doing my homework and staying ahead of the game."

Schools such as Boston College, Miami, Georgia, Charlotte and Temple expressed interest in Watts, Annas said. When Duke assistant coach Johnny Dawkins, whose son played with Jonovan Watts, became head coach at Stanford, he also recruited Justin.

But Roy Williams advised him to be patient, that a scholarship might open at North Carolina — the NCAA limits men's basketball teams to 13. Last spring, Williams invited the Wattses to campus and offered Justin a full ride.

He accepted on the spot, knowing full well playing time would be limited on a team that returned five starters from last season's Final Four squad.

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