A five-star basketball recruit is usually a kid with the world on a string. But for Long Beach Poly junior Peyton Watson, life looks pretty much the same as it does for the other students at his high school and in the city of Long Beach. Were school still open, he’d be turning heads on the AAU circuit, planning on recruiting visits, and being feted by the best college basketball coaches in the country.
“We’re just trying to stay occupied, man,” he said.
Just like when the world was open, his primary concerns have been school and basketball, both of which have changed significantly.
“I’m trying to stay on top of online school,” he said. “For me, the work is easier, it’s just harder to concentrate when you’re at home all day. At school, you know it’s business, you’re there to get work done. At home, it’s harder to know when to turn it on and turn it off.”
Working out has been less of a challenge, thanks mostly to the fact that the Watsons live in Long Beach.
“We’ve been working out in lots of ways,” he said. “Going up to Signal Hill to run, we’re so lucky to live in Long Beach and have that. And we’ve got a court outside which is a blessing, so I’ve just been shooting, working out, staying sharp.”
He has an in-home workout partner in his little brother, Chris Watson, who’s currently a sophomore at Poly. Chris has had scholarship offers coming in too, so anyone cruising around the Watsons’ neighborhood might see two future NCAA basketball players getting after it on the driveway.
“We’re getting better together, and it’s always competitive with us,” said Peyton. “Sometimes our parents have to make us stop before we fight.”
He also said that while school and basketball are currently closed, that doesn’t mean his recruitment has slowed down. He was offered a scholarship last week by Georgetown, and he said he’s spent a good chunk of time staying in touch with the colleges recruiting him.
“It’s a lot, honestly, because nobody has anything better to do right now so it’s a lot of checking in,” he said. “You’ll get a call and pick it up and it’s a four minute conversation because nothing much has changed since the call 24 hours ago, we’re all doing the same stuff.”
The family has also been enjoying episodes of The Last Dance, the ESPN documentary about Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls. For young hoopers like Watson, the documentary is a deeper look into Jordan, since he stopped playing before today’s high school players were born.
“We just watch the episodes over and over waiting for the new ones,” said Watson. “I’m picking up important stuff. One of my favorite quotes was he said, ‘I’ll never ask my teammates to do something I haven’t already done.’ That’s leading by example. You see in the documentary he was 35 years old winning line drills every time. That’s a different mentality. If he’s already the best player on the planet and still doing that then I for sure need to be doing that.”
Watson is hoping he’s part of a new era for high school hoops, where more players are representing their city at the local public school as opposed to transferring out of area to a private program.
“I get to represent where I grew up,” he said. “Going to the school where you live is a pride thing for me, and I’m territorial about my school and my city.”
The benefits have been obvious. In the last year he’s gone from being a skinny sophomore on varsity to one of the most sought-after recruits in the country. Because he’s at Poly, he’s had plenty of advice from Jackrabbit greats.
“I’ve gotten advice from Willie McGinest, Jordan Bell, Barry Barnes, all those guys coming back and talking to me,” he said. “It shows they see something in me and they see I can be the next great one to come out of Poly–that means a lot.”
Of course, right now, all that is on hold, part of what Watson called the “living contradiction” of being a basketball player who can’t play basketball right now. He’s waiting anxiously to get back on a court with his team and to get back to school with his friends.
“I just miss seeing all my homies and cracking jokes,” he said. “Poly is really unique, it’s an inner city community school but you have people from Bixby Knolls and Virginia Country Club coming together with people from down the street. There’s just something about going to Poly that propels you to be great.”