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Watson found his niche and the Mount found its way to big show NCAA TOURNAMENT


The road to the NCAA tournament has been a circuitous one for Mount St. Mary's senior forward Michael Watson.

But Watson is savoring his arrival at the desired destination after having some second thoughts about the Mount. He endured the worst of times; now is the moment for enjoying the best.

"After my freshman year [when the Mount was 6-22], I thought about leaving," Watson said. "It just seemed like starting all over again was the way to go.

"But then I felt I had to stick it out. I committed to this school for four years and I didn't want to let everybody down."

He hasn't. The forward from Philadelphia has been one of the cornerstones of the Mountaineers' ascent to the Northeast Conference title and a berth in the NCAA Division I tournament.

Watson was sleepless most of the night and early morning before the NEC championship at Rider because he couldn't bear the thought of playing in his final collegiate game.

At about 6 feet 3 1/2 , Watson was not heavily recruited from a Roman Catholic High team that won 44 straight league games and three consecutive titles in Philadelphia.

His size was what is commonly known as "in between" for an inside player, and he lacked the outside shooting ability to play guard.

In the NCAAs, he will be matched up with players four to five inches taller, but that is nothing new for the second-team all-NEC choice. Watson likely will figure a way to use his exceptional jumping skill and positioning to hold his own.

"Michael's a good kid," said coach Jim Phelan. "Despite his obvious limitations, he is one of those guys who thinks he can beat anybody.

"And if he doesn't know answers, he always asks questions. He is inquisitive and wants to do well, both on the court and in the classroom."

An accounting major, Watson is a thoughtful person whose major problems during a solid career have revolved around indecision over whether he should be a starter or a sixth man and a tendency to complain to officials.

That tendency has sometimes worked against him, but his settlement into the sixth-man role for the majority of his four years probably has prevented a rash of foul-outs.

"He does complain about fouls because he always thinks his blocks are clean, but he has only had one technical his whole career," said Phelan. "And Michael said he has never taunted a player in his life."

Watson agreed that he sometimes has been frustrated by personal-foul calls. "I was always talking to the refs, but as a senior, I didn't do that as much. I understand the game more."

As a result, he has fouled out only once this season, down by six from his junior year.

After a freshman year when he was named to the NEC all-newcomer team, Watson believed he should be a regular, but "then I realized Coach needed someone off the bench who can give the team a spark. I told him that could be my role."

After getting a feel for the flow of a game, Watson enters with six or seven minutes expired. Almost invariably, the Mount becomes a more up-tempo team.

Phelan said the major improvement in Watson's game is that he's taking the medium-range jumpers he'd avoided. "That keeps people from backing in on Randy [7-foot center Randy Edney]," said the coach.

Former assistant coach Bob Flynn watched Watson play in high school and, through a former teammate of Phelan, player and school got together.

"Michael wasn't getting an awful lot of [recruiting] attention because of his size," said Phelan. "But he had always played top-flight competition and, as it turned out, he was the last one to know he wasn't big enough.

"His mother liked us and that didn't hurt. So, Michael has turned into a fine player for us. He jumps out of the gym and he is a great shot-blocker who understands just when to do it."

Watson has been consistent the last three years, averaging in the vicinity of 60 percent shooting, 10.0 to 14.1 points and 7.0 to 7.9 rebounds.

His 140 blocks have moved him past Alex Watson into second place on the school's all-time shot-blocking list and he probably will pass the other Watson as the top field-goal percentage shooter in Mount history.

Watson, 23, said he "started getting chills and goose bumps" when the Mount learned it would play Kentucky in the Southeast Regional.

"All I know is I had three championships in high school and I didn't want to leave here without another one," he said. "Some people counted us out as just another game for Rider, but not us. I went through the bad times, so I'm happy personally."

"When it gets near the end, suddenly players wonder where their next game is coming from," Phelan said. "That can be frightening."

But when the NCAA appearance ends, Phelan also has to face reality. How will he replace Watson?

"After Alex and Michael, the thing to do is look for another Watson," he said.


Game: Mount St. Mary's (17-12) vs. Kentucky (25-4).

What: First round, NCAA tournament Southeast Regional.

Where: Memphis, Tenn.

When: Tomorrow, 7:50 p.m.

TV/Radio: Channel 13/WQSI (820 AM).

Where to watch: Mount alumni in Baltimore are invited to gather at Palermo's restaurant, 106 West Padonia Rd. in Timonium, beginning at 7 p.m., to watch the game. Also, the game will be broadcast on a wide-screen TV at the Knott Arena on the Mount campus in Emmitsburg. Doors will open at 7 p.m. Immediately after the men's game, WQSI's radio broadcast of the Mount women's game against Alabama will be carried live at the arena.

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