Peyton Watson is an enigma.
The junior is entering the 2019-20 high school basketball season ranked the No. 32 player in the 2021 class by 247 Sports, having spent some of the summer playing for the USA Basketball Junior National team. Watson is a 6’7” positionless player who has shown flashes of brilliance at every position from point guard to forward.
Watson has a dozen scholarship offers, ranging from Arizona and Washington to Oregon and USC, with plenty of interest from Gonzaga, Virginia, and Maryland, among many others. Despite all of those accolades and all that attention, Watson also entered the 2019-20 season with one career varsity start.
That’s led to an ongoing conversation among rival Moore League coaches: is Watson the clear-cut best player in the Moore League? Or is he a young player who hasn’t earned the love he’s getting?
“He got maybe four points against us when we played them last year?” said one Moore League coach. “I want to see what he does this year before I crown him.”
Watson is a throwback player in many ways. A clip of him dunking on a fellow Poly student on the school’s blacktop court went viral a few months ago, a decidedly 1990s image, since most elite players today aren’t still taking on all comers at lunchtime. Because it’s old school, perhaps his reaction to people doubting him isn’t surprising. Rather than adding someone to a hypothetical list of haters, Watson smiled when he heard people didn’t think he’d proven himself in high school yet.
“I agree,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this season since last year ended. Especially getting the attention I have been, I want to prove myself.”
Watson’s family rolls deep to every Poly game, but there might not be a louder voice in his corner than his Long Beach Poly coach, Shelton Diggs, who began telling people when Watson was a freshman that he’d be something special.
“Yeah he didn’t start many games last year, we had an entire team full of seniors, but he’s the most talented kid I’ve coached since I’ve been here,” said Diggs. “Definitely the most talented. He can do it all, talent-wise. Now, he hasn’t done it yet–but he has the ability.”
Watson will be asked to do a lot for a young Jackrabbits team this year, which returns only three varsity players. The Jackrabbits are 2-0 in games where he scored at least 25 points and 0-2 in games where he scored less than 25. That’s a large burden being placed on a young player, especially one who’s also being asked to lead, despite his lack of experience.
“He’s responded really well to it,” said Diggs. “He has to lead by example right now, first in every line, working the hardest. He has to show more than he says.”
“I’m taking pride in that,” said Watson. “Trying to be able to get after people but at the same time be their brother.”
That’s a literal statement as well as a figurative one, since his younger brother, Christian, is one of several promising varsity newcomers for the Jackrabbits this season.
The word “promising” is one that Watson wants to erase from the conversation this year. That means taking everything people believe is possible for him this season and turning it into reality. It also means silencing any coaches who are doubting him, and making sure Poly retains the league title, which it’s held every year since 2009.
“I take everything personally, that’s why I’m so excited for this season,” Watson said. “I wasn’t the player last year that I am this year. I’m not the player this year that I will be next year. It’s about the work and getting better.”