Long Beach Poly senior star Peyton Watson made history on Tuesday afternoon as he was named a McDonald’s All-American. Watson fulfilled a lifelong dream with the honor and becomes just the second Poly boys’ player in history and just the fourth boys’ player in Long Beach history to be named to the McDonald’s roster.
“I’m just feeling super grateful and blessed and proud of myself,” said Watson. “I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a kid. This has been my individual goal for high school, it’s crazy to think that we finally got here.”
Watson said he grew up watching the game with his father, Julio, and younger brother Chris, who’s a junior at Poly.
“I didn’t really see myself playing there until a year and a half ago,” he said. “There’s a one in a million chance to make it.”
One person who had faith at an early stage was Watson’s mother, Antionette. Moments after her son was announced on ESPN as having made this year’s list, she recalled her first meeting with Poly boys’ basketball coach Shelton Diggs.
“Peyton was 13, and we’d enrolled at Poly and we asked if we could meet with Shell,” she said. “He reluctantly agreed to meet with us, and while we were in the meeting I said to him, ‘My son has this dream of being a McDonald’s All-American. Is that something you think could happen here?’ He kind of looked at me and said, ‘Well, that’s going to be up to him.’”
Diggs laughed recalling the story.
“You hear that from parents but when someone brings it to fruition it’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “And to get it the way he got it–no politics, straight off hard work. I’m so happy for him. It’s nothing to do with me or coach Ack or anyone, it’s all on him, he earned it.”
Watson was considered something of a lock for the honor this year. He’s the top-ranked player in California and has been consistently ranked highly on the national level and projected as an NBA lottery pick when he’s done at UCLA. But there was a moment of tension in the Watson house in Bixby Knolls when the first of two screens of honorees’ names was shown on ESPN. The first screen included some West Coast players, so it looked for a moment that he’d been left off. ESPN chose to air the names alphabetically, though, not by the usual West/East designations. A few seconds later they switched to the second card, which had Watson last.
“I held my breath for a second because you just never know with any of this stuff until you really know,” said Peyton’s father, Julio.
His name being on the list puts him in a rare tier in Long Beach. While there’s a great basketball tradition in the city, Chris Sandle (1984) was the last Poly boys’ player to receive this particular honor–the game dates back to 1977. Only four boys’ players from a Long Beach high school have ever received the honor–Sandle, Darrick Martin (St. Anthony, 1988), and Travon Bryant (Jordan, 2000).
Five Poly girls’ players have been named McDonald’s All-Americans since 2008, and Watson becomes the seventh Jackrabbit in history to make the game.
McDonald’s announced last week that the game would not be played this year due to COVID-19 restrictions; a virtual celebration will be held in early April
Long Beach McDonald’s All-Americans
Chris Sandle (Long Beach Poly) 1984
Darrick Martin (St. Anthony) 1988
Travon Bryant (Jordan) 2000
Jasmine Dixon (Long Beach Poly) 2008
Monique Oliver (Long Beach Poly) 2009
Ariya Crook-Williams (Long Beach Poly) 2011
Lajahna Drummer (Long Beach Poly) 2014
Ayanna Clark (Long Beach Poly) 2017
Peyton Watson (Long Beach Poly) 2021