Long Beach Poly star basketball player Peyton Watson confirmed over the weekend that he’s done playing high school basketball, although he said he’s not happy about it. The McDonald’s All-American and UCLA signee said the shifted schedule for the high school season overlaps with too many next-level responsibilities for him to keep playing for Poly.
“It kills me to not play,” he said. “But with the season starting late and going into June, I’ve got all this other stuff I’m doing for USA Basketball and getting prepared to go to UCLA. If we’d had a regular November to March season I would’ve gone all the way through, 100%. But this team is going to do just fine without me and I’m going to be at as many games as I can helping however I can.”
Watson recently missed a week of games to travel to Memphis for the Iverson Classic, where he practiced and played in front of scouts from all 30 NBA teams, and a similar opportunity is coming up in Dallas with two weeks at the USA Basketball U19 training camp. After the training camp is over the team is going to Latvia for a month to play in the FIBA U19 World Cup, and Watson will be enrolling at UCLA the day after he gets back from Latvia.
“There’s a lot going on and there’s a lot of schedule overlap,” said Julio Watson, Peyton’s father. “This isn’t because of worrying about a potential injury or because he doesn’t care about his school, I think everyone knows he does. But with the schedule that’s set up he’s got to focus on this other stuff. He’s really heartbroken about it.”
It’s not lost on the Watson family that recent ESPN mock 2022 NBA Drafts have featured Peyton in the top five to top ten, for a draft that’s only 14 months away at this point. That’s elevated the need to be physically and mentally prepared for UCLA as well as the upcoming USA Basketball camp and tournament, which will be in front of pro scouts as well.
“I understand it and I back them up 100%,” said Poly coach Shelton Diggs. “Of course I want him to play and I’d be able to keep coaching a talent like that. But this year the schedule is messed up and I totally understand prioritizing USA Basketball and things you’re doing in front of scouts. We’re going to keep pushing and trying to win a championship, but I’m behind Peyton and his family all the way and I’ll support him forever.”
For Peyton himself, there’s a lot of mixed emotions. He watched the Poly/Bosco game at the Nike Extravaganza last weekend from the bench next to the coaches, where he was yelling and cheering louder than anyone else in the gym. Watson is experiencing the pain and conflict of being a high school senior wanting to enjoy a last year as a kid, playing basketball for his school and with his little brother; but also being a burgeoning professional with big-money responsibilities and decisions on his plate.
“The games I got to play this year meant the world to me, getting to play for Poly and to play in Long Beach and to play with my brother,” said Watson. “Anyone who comes to our games will see the passion I’ve got for the team and the school, whether I’m playing or not. It breaks my heart not being out there. I wear Long Beach and I wear Poly on my chest, and that’s something I’ll always do.”
Watson averaged 30 points per game in the seven games he played with the Jackrabbits this year. Poly is ranked No. 5 in the CIF-SS Division 2AA rankings and will still look to contend for a CIF championship this season.