SPORTS >>The Red Devils' quiet man
By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor
He speaks in a voice that gives the impression of shyness. Lately, though, on the basketball court, he’s behaved rather boisterously, boisterously at least, for a soft-spoken young man who, in the past, always played the game with such a placid expression one could hardly tell if his team was winning or losing.
Perhaps the reason that Kajuan DeAndre Watson, starting senior forward for the Jacksonville Red Devils, is expressing himself a little more on the court is because he was the clear-cut team leader heading into this season. While maybe not far and away the best player, Watson is the one who has some experience to lend to a team ripe with youngsters that have never been through the rigors of a 6A-East schedule.
Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner explained earlier in the season, “Kajuan is really the only one on the team that’s been through all those wars,” Joyner said. “He is our floor leader. He has to be because he’s the only one that really knows what to expect.”
Watson is the only three-year starter, one of only three players that saw considerable minutes last year, and the only player returning that started the majority of games last season. That inexperience doesn’t deter the goals Watson has in mind for this year’s Red Devils.
“I want a conference championship, a run in the state tournament and a state championship,” Watson said.
Those are tall orders for a young team, and orders Watson knows won’t come without some improvement, personally and team-wide.
“We have to get tougher on defense and execute better on offense,” Watson said. “Mostly we have to execute on offense. We turn it over too much and don’t run the offense. We’ve got to shoot better too.”
Watson is currently just as mired in the shooting woes as the rest of his team. The Red Devils have made only 27 percent of their field goals in the last two games, which is also about Watson’s percentage. But like his coach, he’s not discouraged by the slump.
“We just keep shooting because we know we can shoot, but we also have to be smart and work harder to get it to the big guys when the outside shots aren’t going in,” Watson said.
Joyner said he got that from his coach.
“That’s what we’ve been working on the last three days,” Joyner said Friday morning. “If you’re behind late, if you don’t get a bucket you need to get to the free-throw line, and you don’t get to the free-throw line shooting threes. I bet you we’ll get the ball inside more now.”
Getting inside is something that Watson has been working on since the summer. He knows he’ll have to be more of a slasher to get the looks from the big schools that he wants. That’s been his focal point for improvement, and it’s showing this season. One of the most exciting plays of the year so far came in Jacksonville’s last game when Watson went baseline out of the halfcourt set and threw down a dunk among the quartet of trees that made up 80 percent of the Olive Branch starting lineup.
“I’ve been working on that and I think slashing is one of my strengths,” Watson said. “I know, as one of the leaders of this team, that I have to be more aggressive.”
Joyner says that he’ll not only need to be more aggressive, he’ll need to be calm as well. With the conference season just beginning, and the 6A-East being the most grueling league in the state, there will be times when the Red Devils will be in tight spots late in games. Joyner plans to give the ball, on many of those occasions, to the one who has been there.
“He knows that,” Joyner said. “You can actually say he’s the only experienced player on the team. He knows the ball is going to be in his hands at crunch time a lot of times. I think he can handle it because he’s just laid back anyway. He’s a quiet leader on this team and he knows that too.”
This year’s Red Devils are much more galvanized than recent ones, especially last year’s, Joyner’s first at Jacksonville. Team chemistry is better and locker-room tensions are much lower. Joyner gives Watson some of the credit for that, and therein lies the real reason Joyner calls him the quiet leader.
“He’s just a laid back, easy going person,” Watson said. “He’s about the team and he doesn’t get jealous if someone outshines him on a play or in a game. As a leader on this team, that attitude has filtered down. It’s not all him. This whole bunch just gets along better. It’s a fun group of kids to coach because they’re team oriented and they get along. Kajuan is just a big part of that.”
Watson doesn’t even know what schools are interested in him, mainly because his coach hasn’t told him. Joyner said no solid offers have come through, that’s why he hasn’t mentioned any names, but there are several schools, mostly junior colleges right now, that have expressed interest.
“It’s real early in the game and people are just putting feelers out and seeing what’s out there,” Joyner said. “He’s not a standout All American, so people aren’t popping out of the sky begging for him, but he’s getting some looks. I know how to play the game with ‘em and I’m going to do everything I can to help him.”
Watson is also unique in that, if pro basketball is not an option after college, he’s already resolved to leave athletics behind.
“I’d like to play overseas if there’s an opportunity there,” Watson said. “In college though, I’m going to study criminal justice. I want to take the pre-law classes and go on into law school.”
Whatever endeavor Watson takes up, his coach is certain that he’ll succeed, at least if he shows the same character he has for Joyner.
“I love coaching the kid,” Joyner said. “He’s a great kid from a strong family. He works his butt off and does everything you ask him to do. He’s the kind of kid you want to see achieve his dreams.”