Jason Watts will be looking to make history on NBA Draft night, as the first player selected from a Canadian college since 1994.
To say Jason Watts’ basketball journey is unconventional would be an understatement. He spent the last three years starring at tiny Lambton college in Ontario, Canada. In his final season, he averaged 17.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, shooting 54.6 percent from the field, 46.4 percent on 3-pointers and 78.6 percent from the free-throw line. You won’t find his name on many draft boards but the 6-foot-6 wing is hoping to become the first player drafted from a Canadian university since 1994.
Watts recently spoke with The Step Back by phone about preparing for the NBA Draft in the middle of a pandemic and what he thinks he can bring to an NBA team.
The Step Back: I know a lot of casual basketball fans won’t be familiar with your story. Can you talk a little bit about your basketball journey and what lead you here, to preparing for the NBA Draft?
Watts: I recently just finished college in Canada, at a school called Lambton. I got my start in basketball pretty late, I didn’t really get playing time and stuff until I got to college. I probably played my first full time and minutes at the age of 17. I started out at St. Claire Community College in Port Huron, Michigan. I played there for two years, got my name out there and that’s when I went over to Canada and finished the rest of my basketball career at Lambton. And, fast forward, three years later, I finish as the sixth-all-time leading scorer and all-star. Really just, going to a new country and not knowing what to expect and getting my name out there and making that my home.
What took you to Lambton as you were ready to transfer into a new program?
You know obviously, it was a new start, I was going to a new country, but it’s right by Michigan, it’s not that far away. It’s like 40 minutes either way. I was optimistic about learning a new style of basketball, you know in Canada they play FIBA style basketball. It was really just an open-minded place to go and grow as a basketball player.
How do you feel like the experience at Lambton and the opportunities you get there helped you develop as a player?
Well, just the style of play, it’s really fast-paced. I lot of people don’t know this but they play four 10-minute quarters instead of 20-minute halves, they play with a 24-second shot clock and the FIBA 3-point line which is closer to NBA range. So you get a lot more from it, I feel like the style of play helped me kind of mold into a different player.
From watching tape and going through the stats, you certainly appear to be a very versatile player, the kind of guy who can do a bit of everything. When you think of yourself as a basketball player, what do you think are your strongest attributes?
The first thing is the 3-point shooting. That was one of the things I really pride myself on and it became one of my strong suits. You know I shot 46 percent from the 3-point line my last year. My ability to catch-and-shoot, from any angle, being able to really score without the ball in my hands. I wouldn’t describe myself as a ball-dominant player, I’m more like I can fit and find open space.
And then play multiple positions, I did play the small forward, power forward and center positions. Defensively, being active and willing to do the little things that can get overlooked.
I know this is sort of a loaded question, but if you look at the NBA, who is the player you look at and say, “at my best, I could be that sort of player.”?
Probably Khris Middleton. He’s efficient and he can fill up the box score. Obviously with a guy like Giannis who’s coming down the lane you’re terrified but then you’ve got a guy like Middleton who can knock down shots any time and score without the ball in his hands. And do it efficiently. And guard the best wing on the other team.
As you’ve been watching the playoffs and the Finals, what kind of lessons are you taking about what’s going to be important for you at the next level?
LeBron James and Anthony Davis, you have to play almost perfectly on defense. There’s a lot of things you have to do right to beat those guys, even for one game. I saw this thing where Udonis Haslem was on the bench telling them they had to have more energy, they had to have energy at all times. That’s what really I learned watching the playoffs and the matchups, you have to be sharp, you have to be able to adjust and you have to be able to take their best shot and then have enough to push back.
What are you working on now in this time before the draft? What are you trying to get done in terms of skill development and fitness?
You know, I’m actually over in Armenia right now on a tour with BKMA an Armenian elite team playing exhibitions. Just competing every day, making sure I’m in game shape. Just taking the things I already worked on this summer, trying to make my game more versatile, and trying to master them during an actual 40-minute game.
So are you playing games just in Armenia, or are you traveling to other countries?
Right now, I’m just in Armenia on this exhibition tour.
How did that come about? How did they find you? Or how did you find them?
I went to this camp, it’s called Eurobasket, in June. I went to Atlanta and I ended up placing fifth overall and first in forwards, and guys come from all over the world to this. And it was just something we talked about and I was able to come out here and get a chance to compete.
Obviously, the draft process is screwy this year because of the pandemic and some of those opportunities that you might have had in a different year — group workouts to show how you match up against similar players in front of a specific team, or the five-on-five at the draft combine — aren’t there. How do you prove yourself without those opportunities?
This is kind of a rough time right now, so much uncertainty everywhere. The NBA start deadline for next year is all over the place. So I’m just trying to keep building, keep improving. And just be ready to go when and if I get a call, make sure I’m prepared to show them something they’ll take a chance on.
Have you thought about what you’d like to do if it doesn’t happen this year? Would you like to catch on with a team in Europe? Would you like to stay here and try to play through the G League?
Honestly, if I get an opportunity with a G League team, that’s just as good as the NBA. Any opportunity with an NBA affiliate, that’s a blessing in disguise. That’s an opportunity that most people don’t even get. It would be huge to be able to play for a G League team.