It's been just two years since Anton Waters left Baltimore for Gulf Coast State College in Florida. But for the former Forest Park star, committing to Western Kentucky last week felt like a much longer time coming.
"Honestly it's about time, you know? All the hard work pays off."
Waters, a 6-foot-6 ½, 240-pound forward, picked the Hilltoppers over offers from Arkansas-Little Rock, East Tennessee State, Wright State and several others.
An athletic rebounding machine in high school, Waters looked the part of a Division I player even as a freshman playing for Walbrook's varsity. His next two years at Forest Park served as confirmation, with schools like Florida Gulf Coast, Iona, Minnesota, Penn State, Tulane, UNC-Wilmington, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech expressing interest in him.
Looking to play a national schedule as a senior, Waters transferred to Princeton Day Academy, where he earned his high school diploma. But his NCAA qualifying score came up short.
"Being young, it hit me pretty bad," Waters said. "I thought that would be it for my career. But I just kept going with it. Went to JUCO, got a little better, and here I am."
Waters made an instant impact at Gulf Coast, averaging 7.1 points and 6.1 rebounds as a freshman, starting 16 of the team's 28 games. His sophomore year was even better, with averages of 11.2 points and 7.9 rebounds.
"It was kind of like I was looked to as a leader on and off the court," Waters said. "I kind of understand the game better. … My jump shot got better, perimeter defense and my passing game. I'm still working on my ball-handling, but it came along pretty good."
Waters, who plans to major in sports management, said he has enjoyed the small-school, community-oriented mindset he's experienced at Gulf Coast. He thinks Western Kentucky might be similar.
"Western Kentucky, it's a basketball city, a basketball town," he said. "It's similar to Gulf Coast as far as the people and the community. It's a great program and a better opportunity for me to keep playing at the next level. … They say they want an impact player. They want me to rebound, score and play perimeter defense."
Greate White, Waters' coach at Forest Park, said he and assistant coach Ken Gibson are thankful for the opportunity their former star will have at Western Kentucky, which last made the NCAA tournament in 2013. It appears to be a good fit for both parties.
"Anton Waters did his part," White said. "He completed his tasks at school academically. That's why we're having this conversation, because Anton Waters did his part. I'm proud of the kid. He's a kid that will continue to work hard – that's just in his nature."