Cuonzo Martin’s greatest scoring total as a high schooler was 41 points, and the Missouri basketball coach likes to use that as a frame of reference for what one of his incoming players is capable of accomplishing next season.
Martin recently pointed out that Torrence Watson had three games with 50-plus points during his senior season — and more games with 40-plus. After averaging 31.2 points for Whitfield School in St. Louis this season, he set the team’s career scoring record. The remarkable total: 2,755 points.
“That means you’re able to put the ball in the basket,” Martin said of Watson, currently the highest-ranked Class of 2018 Missouri signee. “... It’s just a matter of us being able to put him in position to be successful, giving him the confidence from day one to understand, ‘Do what you do in high school. Just take it to the next level.’”
Mizzou will need Watson’s offensive ability immediately. MU is losing its top two scorers this past season, Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett. The Tigers could lose their third-leading scorer, too, if Jontay Porter decides to stay in the NBA Draft.
All three of those men did much of their scoring on the perimeter, where the 6-foot-4 Watson plays as a natural shooting guard.
“His ability to score is a thing Coach Martin has seen,” Whitfield coach Mike Potsou said. “And I think he's relying on Torrence to bring that next year.”
Whitfield had to rely on Watson for scoring this past season, too. Necessity, not selfishness, brought out some of Watson’s greatest scoring performances, according to Potsou, who said before Watson’s senior year, the guard had a reputation as someone who lacked the ability to take over games. But this past season, Whitfield’s offense always ran through Watson. He often played point guard, and when he didn’t, he had to free himself from multiple defenders by coming off of screens.
Carrying the offensive burden gave Watson a greater sense of confidence.
“It became second nature,” Watson said. “I wasn't really thinking how is my defender guarding me. It was just having that feel for the game.”
Much of that scoring happened on drives to the basket, which resulted in either free throws or easy layups. Watson knows those points won’t come as easily at the college level, where larger, more athletic men will crowd the paint, so he’s bulking up and recently weighed in at 199.6 pounds — up more than 20 pounds from his listed weight on most recruiting websites. He anticipates taking more shots away from the rim at the college level, too, so he’s trying to hasten the release of his jumper.
“His mid-range game, his pull-up game, I think is great,” said Rico Sylvester Sr., a coach with Watson’s AAU program Jets Ramey United who has known the guard since he was a pre-teen. “He’ll be able to translate a lot easier. He’ll understand, ‘There’s a lot of 6-8, 6-10 guys up there. I’m not able to get there like I used to.’”
Potsou said Watson has rarely been able to rely on just his athleticism to beat an opponent. As a result, he’s already developed an ability to read defenses and know what to do before he has the ball in his hands.
The guard kept opponents off balance by finding different ways to score. He can catch and shoot from three. He also likes to use a screen, take one or two dribbles and pull up for a mid-range jumper.
“He doesn’t necessarily have one move,” Potsou said. “He has a plethora of moves he can go to.”
All of which Martin hopes will be effective when Watson arrives at MU in early June, just a few days after his high school graduation. The coach said the summer provides “so many unknowns for new players.” They must adjust to a more serious weightlifting regimen, to practicing more often, and to playing with men who are better than they originally anticipate.
Watson knows the demands on him are about to become more serious. But like his next head coach, he doesn’t think those things will change the type of player he is.