Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: UMKC Great Michael Watson

October 17th, 2010
In the latest installment of his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Missouri-Kansas City legend Michael Watson. Watson finished his career in 2004 as the school's all-time leading scorer, with one of the highlights being a 54-point performance in a double-overtime win over perennial Summit (then Mid-Continent) power Oral Roberts. After playing overseas Watson retired to become a minister.

Jon Teitel: Why did you decide to go to UMKC?
Michael Watson:
I am a Kansas City guy and wanted to have the opportunity to be a trailblazer and build a program after Tony Dumas had left as the leading scorer in school history. It was a great fit for me and my family: a Division I program right in the city.

JT: In 2001-2002 you set a school record by averaging 39.1 minutes/game. How were you able to play so much without collapsing from sheer exhaustion?
When you are young you can play all day! We were well-conditioned in the preseason, so we were all able to run up and down the court. Sometimes I would take a break on the offensive end when a play was being run for someone else to score.

JT: In 2003 you scored a school-record 54 of your team's 91 points while playing all 50 minutes in a double overtime win against Oral Roberts. What are your memories of that game, and was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?
It was one of those games that you do not want to lose. ORU was a big rival who had beaten us a lot before I got there, and I did not want them to beat us while I was there. We were actually down 16-0 to start the game, and I told the coach to just give me the ball. I went out and hit my first five shots, and just knew that it was going to be one of those games. I like their gym a lot because the ball seemed to bounce our way. We had an experienced point guard named Marc Stricker who joked that I scored 54 points thanks to him because he passed to me the entire game and did not score a single point. The real reason we won the game is that my teammates hit a lot of big baskets at key moments after ORU started double-teaming me.

JT: You were a three-time First Team All Mid-Con performer. How were you able to dominate throughout your college career?
I had the desire to get better every year, both as a player and a teammate. I had really great teammates who allowed me to play basketball at a high level. We had no egos; it was all about winning. It also helped that the coaches drew up plays that played to my strengths.

JT: How close did you come to declaring for the NBA Draft after your junior year, and why did you decide to stay for your senior year?
I was definitely about to go pro, but then I looked at the rest of the 2003 shooting guard class and realized how much competition I would have. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kirk Hinrich, etc. I figured that it would be better to stay in school and work on getting stronger and on my point guard abilities. I came close to leaving, but did not want to lose my last year of eligibility if I did not get drafted. I also wanted to win a conference title and go to the NCAA Tournament.

JT: The team's leading scorer during your freshman year was Michael Jackson, and the team's leading scorer the year after you graduated was Mike English. Did the school just decide to recruit guys named Michael and hope that it worked out for the best?!
You cannot go wrong with the name Michael. Michael Jordan, Michael Beasley, etc. I guess coach just caught on after a while.

JT: After graduation you played professionally in Poland, France, Italy and Puerto Rico. What did you learn from these experiences, and how did they compare to college basketball?
I actually signed with the Celtics after going undrafted, and played summer league with them before being invited to their preseason camp. Playing with guys with a high basketball IQ like Paul Pierce and Marcus Banks taught me a lot. The experience of being a pro does not compare to college because in college you have to go to class and do your homework. In the pros you play against grown men who take their job seriously because they have to put food on the table, and it is a lot more physical. I enjoyed my time in Europe. I also played in Puerto Rico while I was in college, as that was before the NCAA sanctioned such activities. That helped my game a lot.

JT: You retired at age 26 to become a minister. Why did you change careers and how is that working out for you?
When God gets a hold of you and puts certain things in your life, you have to listen. I wanted to chase the basketball dream, but it was hard to balance that with my faith. After I retired I was trying to find myself and figure out what I was supposed to be doing. I learned a lot about my character and my flaws, which I could not work on before due to being focused on basketball, and I just wanted to focus on living the life of Christ. Basketball players can be 100% Christian and not live the stereotypical life of a "pro athlete". Playing basketball is a gift, and was not something I took lightly.

JT: You named your daughter Jordyn after Michael Jordan. Was MJ your favorite player growing up, and do you hope that your daughter grows up to "be like Mike"?!
Michael Jordan is my favorite player of all-time, and I patterned my game after him. It was a two-fold deal, as she was also named after the Jordan River, which has to do with my fraternity. I just want her to be who she is and do whatever she wants to do. I want her to be a normal little girl and enjoy her life. She likes basketball and swimming, but she also likes to play dress-up.

JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?
I want to be remembered for my faith, as that speaks volumes and lasts the longest. My stats will speak for themselves on the court, but my faith in Christ has helped me so much off the court.

Michael is also on Jon's list of the best fantasy players in Summit League history.

Centenary: Willie Jackson (1984) 2,535 PTS (#1), 1,013 REB (#2), 205 STL (#2), 112 BLK (#1), three-time conference Player of the Year

IPFW: Sean Gibson (1993) 1,765 PTS (#1), 965 REB (#1), 137 STL (#5), 60.7 FG% (#1), conference Player of the Year

IUPUI: Carlos Knox (1998) 2,556 PTS (#1), 204 STL (#1), 208 3PM (#3), 83.3 FT% (#5), three-time All-American, national Player of the Year

North Dakota State: Ben Woodside (2009) 2,315 PTS (#1), 640 AST (#2), 176 STL (#5), 228 3PM (#3), 82.4 FT% (#4)

Oakland: Carvin Melson (1973) 2,408 PTS (#1), 1,204 REB (#1), All-American

Oral Roberts: Caleb Green (2007) 2,503 PTS (#3), 1,189 REB (#2), 53.9 FG% (#4), three-time All-American, three-time conference Player of the Year

South Dakota State: Mark Tetzlaff (1985) 1,931 PTS (#1), 1,132 REB (#1), 60.7 FG% (#1), All-American, NCAA Division II Most Outstanding Player

Southern Utah: Jeff Monaco (2001) 1,568 PTS (#2), 547 AST (#1), 225 STL (#1), 256 3PM (#1), 87 FT% (#1), conference Player of the Year

UMKC: Michael Watson (2004) 2,488 PTS (#1), 357 AST (#3), 173 STL (#2), 391 3PM (#1), 79.9 FT% (#3)

Western Illinois: Joe Dykstra (1983) 2,248 PTS (#1), 89 FT% (#1), three-time All-American, two-time conference Player of the Year