The Maneater

Steadfast scorer Torrence Watson ready to fit into fluid role in guard-heavy lineup at Missouri

Watson said playing for his AAU team alongside two fellow Missouri newcomers helped prepare him for a potential four-perimeter-man style.

Missouri basketball recruit Torrence Watson smiles with quarterback Drew Lock. courtesy of Torrence Watson (@TorrenceWatson) via Twitter

Torrence Watson’s lasting impression of Missouri basketball changed for good at ‘Mizzou Madness.’

The 2017 black and gold preseason scrimmage during October’s homecoming Saturday at MU garnered widespread attention for marking the beginning of a new era. Head coach Cuonzo Martin’s pyrotechnical masterpiece certainly didn’t disappoint Watson, a valuable local commodity who had committed to Missouri the previous month.

“I was really impressed, just seeing that,” Watson said in a phone interview. “People were outside like an hour before. The lines were crazy to get in. There were more people at that than there were just at last year’s games in general.”

He pointed out that too was the case at Missouri’s preseason scrimmage against Kansas. And at its season opener against Iowa State. And at most of the following games. Watson was ecstatic to watch it all play out.

And now, six months after that first impressionable spectacle, the final pieces of next season’s puzzle are falling into place for Missouri. Watson, a November signee, still likes what he sees. The No. 12 overall shooting guard prospect in the class of 2018 has high hopes for his own role as a freshman.

“I’m definitely coming in hoping to make an impact right off the bat,” he said. “I’m working on my shooting, making sure my ball handling is right, and hopefully I’ll have an impact on the scoring end but also the defensive end. Coming in and being able to pass the ball, score the ball, defend my position and do everything.”

Martin shares that ambition, especially for Watson as a scorer.

“When you score over 2,500 [high school career] points, that means you have the ability to put the ball in the basket,” Martin said.

Watson averaged a metro area-high 32 points per game in his senior season at Whitfield, topping 50 three times.

“The most points I scored in high school was 41,” Martin said.

As for how quickly he expects that scoring impact to take shape, Martin said, “Hopefully from day one.”

The four-star recruit will play into what Martin hopes to be more backcourt fluidity next season. The Missouri helmsman referenced national champion Villanova’s effective use of four perimeter players and noted that Illinois transfer Mark Smith’s ability to play point or shooting guard is an example of the national trend of interchangeable guard roles. He even called back to Villanova’s 2005-06 team when pointing to the trend’s origins.

“I don’t know if that was a trend yet, but now you look at teams that have four perimeter guys making plays,” he said. “You look at that program and having multiple playmakers on the floor, decision-makers, guys who can make shots and get to the rim. If you can do those things and defend, you have a chance to be a successful program.”

Watson said that style of play is perfect for him. He was prepared well for it by his AAU career for Ramey Jets United, where he played alongside an elite cast of guards. Coincidentally, those included fellow incoming Tigers Smith and Javon Pickett, as well as Missouri target Courtney Ramey.

“We didn’t really have many dominant big men, or many 5s, so going back to playing with my AAU team was mostly guards,” Watson said. “It would be four guards out there, one big. So I think that helps tremendously. I don’t think that’ll be much different because my AAU team.”

The familiarity of playing with Pickett and Smith is something Watson thinks will help him adapt well to the college game. He also said he is already close with rising seniors Kevin Puryear and Cullen VanLeer, rising sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon and rising junior Mitchell Smith.

“Having a relationship with them is definitely going to be key,” Watson said.

Martin said the biggest challenge for new guys is often transitioning to a new locker room — “The ones who adjust quickly are the ones who are going to be successful” — and optimizing that quick adjustment may be one of the benefits to Martin’s recent local recruiting success.

As for Watson personally, there’s no goal for points per game in his freshman season. Instead, he said he’ll use the offseason to put on weight and improve upon a skill set he showed growth in at the end of his high school career.

“One jump I had junior to senior year was being able to take contact,” Watson said. “Going into college, I know it’s a whole different game, bigger and stronger guys. I’ll be working on my body so I’m able to do stuff like I was able to do this year, and also being able to defend someone who’s bigger and stronger.”

Martin said of the 6-foot-5 Watson, “He has a frame on him already.”

“He takes pride in being part of the Mizzou basketball family in the state of Missouri,” Martin continued. “Giving him the confidence from day one to understand, do what you did in high school, just take it to the next level. I think he’ll be able to score the ball.”

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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