Boys basketball: Hanford's Watson is hoping to get back to state

January 24, 2013 

Jalen Watson doesn’t have to dream about making it to a state championship basketball game.

He’s already been there.

Hanford’s senior point guard has felt the warm glow of the lights shining on center court and looked up at the stands filled with hundreds of fans eager to celebrate a state title.

As a freshman at Liberty Christian High School in Richland, Watson was called up to varsity to help the team during the playoff run, which ended with the Patriots losing the Class 1B final 66-41 to Pe Ell in Spokane on March 6, 2010.

Before the game, however, Watson injured his hip and was forced to watch from the sideline.

“I came out of the tunnel to warm up, but it popped out of place and ended up being a fracture,” he said. “My doctor later told me I had played with it out of place for two months. He said I had one of the highest pain tolerances he’d ever seen.”

His father, Terry Watson, was the coach of Liberty Christian at the time and still had a game to worry about. But he was equally concerned for his son’s condition.

“That was the hardest coaching day of my career,” said his father. “I know he’s hurting, and I don’t know what it is.

“He’s just a freshman, but I didn’t know if he’d ever play again.”

Jalen thought if he can’t play basketball, he would attend Hanford, where most of his childhood friends went. After an eight-month recovery period, however, he was back on the court with the Hanford junior varsity. But the hip was still tender, and he struggled to get back to the level he played at before the injury.

“I let that get to me, and my work ethic wasn’t all that great,” he said.

The next summer, he kept working toward his ultimate goal of playing in college.

“I dreamed about that since I was five,” he said. “I had a lot of support from my mom and dad. They said they had full faith I could come back.”

As a junior, he earned his way on the varsity squad and landed a spot in Paul Mayer’s starting rotation. As the Falcons’ point guard, he averaged nearly 10 points a game and quickly became one of the top playmakers in the league.

“He’s very integral to what we’re trying to do, and he’s really tried to step up his role as a leader,” Mayer said. “He’s one of the two best passers I’ve ever coached at Hanford.”

As a coach’s son, Watson has a solid understanding of the game, and his court vision is outstanding. His teammates love being in the game when he’s on the floor.

“He brings a sense of control to the game,” fellow senior guard Jalen DeVine said. “If you’re cutting to the basket, he’ll get you the ball somehow.”

This season, Watson has increased his scoring average to 12.3 points a game, and, despite a recent shooting slump, he’s looking to score even more as Hanford works toward an extended postseason run.

“I enjoy being a scorer. Coach Mayer wants me to bring the ball down and make things happen,” Watson said. “In crunch time, I want to make that shot.”

Mayer knows the team is in good hands with Watson at the point. The longtime Hanford teacher revels in the fact that Watson routinely visits his classroom to chat about the game they both love.

“Jalen and I talk about basketball all the time,” Mayer said. “Any decent coach tries to listen to his players, and I can appreciate a player who looks at the game from the viewpoint of a coach.”

Watson still hopes to play in college. With some help from his father, who helped with his recruiting profile, Jalen says he’s received interest from several NWAACC schools -- Blue Mountain, Peninsula and Shoreline -- as well as Carroll College in Mont., Chaminade in Hawaii and Northern Idaho.

But first, he would love nothing more than a happy ending at Hanford.

“Coach Mayer tells us all the time that this could be one of the best teams Hanford has ever had,” Watson said. “Leaving a legacy is important to me to let underclassmen know that what we did was special.”

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