Photo by John Napalan/Art O’Neill
When Long Beach Poly takes the floor for the first time December 3 in the Westchester Tournament, the Jackrabbits will be opening one of the most unique and strange chapters in the program’s storied history. Poly returns only three varsity players from last year’s team, which won the Moore League title for the 10th consecutive time but was eliminated in the first round of the Division 1 playoffs.
Despite that fact, the Jackrabbits open the season ranked in Division 1 and with more hype and excitement around the program than they’ve had in years. How can that be? The answer is Peyton Watson, a 6’7” junior who is a consensus top 40 recruit in his class and a USA Basketball player this summer. Watson has exactly one career varsity start under his belt.
“I’ve been waiting for this season to come around,” said Watson. “Especially getting the attention I’ve gotten since last year ended, I want to prove myself.”
He will certainly have ample opportunity to do that this season, stepping into a leadership role on a team that’s almost entirely made up of players new to varsity. While that fact had some other local coaches licking their chops, Poly coach Shelton Diggs has been loving the months of preparation.
“It’s been fun putting it together, I’ve had to really coach this group,” he said. “Start from the foundation, make sure they know exactly what we want to do. They’re young but they’re very talented–I’m excited for this season.”
Diggs called Watson the most talented player he’s coached, and most talented player he’s seen at Poly in a long time, comparing him favorably to NBA champion Jordan Bell and State Player of the Year Roschon Prince.
“He can do it all,” he said. “He’s definitely the most talented. He hasn’t done it yet–but he has the ability.”
Diggs is excited because he feels his team is stacked with talented players that most don’t know about yet. With only one senior on the roster, they’ll have plenty of time to make a name for themselves as well.
Watson can play any position from one through four for Poly, and likely will in different lineups. The two other returning varsity players are the Jones twins, Solomon and Ben. Solomon will be the team’s starting center, and looked much more comfortably offensively over the summer, while Ben is a guard Diggs expects to contribute.
Wendel Caldwell is the lone senior, a 6’4” wing that plays great defense and can shoot the ball. Another wing is sophomore Marcel Hayes, at 6’3”. When Diggs rolls those players out with Rafael Cruz, a 6’6” post player, his team will be long and active defensively, with several scoring options.
They also have speed lineups, with six-foot point guard Anthony Robinson, who Diggs said is as fast as Darryl Polk, the former Poly point guard now at Pepperdine. Watson’s younger brother Christian is a sophomore this year and will run point this season. Another talented tenth grader is Gabriel Cummings, a 6’1” shooter who brings major energy.
“He kind of reminds me of Drew Buggs as a sophomore with how hard he plays,” said Diggs.