Early in the morning, before his sports management classes at Lambton College in Sarnia, Ont., all-star forward Jason Watts II spent hours in the gym learning which shots to take and which ones to pass up.
Watts leaves Lambton, en route to the NBA Draft, as one of the best athletes in school history.
He is known as much for his offensive efficiency as his jump-out-the-gym athleticism and defensive tenacity, and he credits those solitary hours before class, piled upon hours watching film, for teaching him how to pick his spots in the flow of a game.
“It’s really just finding those spots and knowing, ‘Okay, this is a shot for me. I can knock this down. It’s going in,’ ” he said.
“It’s just reading my defender and taking a smart shot.”
Watts, a six-foot-seven standout from Detroit, was remarkably consistent over three seasons at Lambton, averaging 17.9 points on 54.6 per cent shooting (46.4 per cent from three-point range) as a senior.
He also led Lambton in rebounds per game (9.9) and blocks (1.4) and was a legitimate inside-out-side threat who posted highlight-reel dunks, devastating step-back jumpers and unguardable mid-range fadeaways.
“Jason Watts has been one of the most transformative student-athletes to walk the halls in the history of Lambton College Athletics,” said Lions head coach James Grant in a statement.
“[His] personality is infectious and really created an atmosphere of success in the halls when it came to varsity sports.”
Genuine NBA Draft potential?
Though players from Canadian schools rarely become NBA Draft picks, it’s not uncommon to see them try.
Last season, Jalen Sykes of Redford, Michigan — who played for St. Clair College in Windsor, Ont., and is part of the new University of Windsor recruiting class — declared for the Draft but didn’t get his name called.
Watts does have NBA size, finishing ability and shot selection. And the NBA G League presents an opportunity for player development that simply didn’t exist before the early 2000s.
Watts is simply looking for his shot.
“A lot of people don’t realize that Canadian [college] basketball is very, very talented,” he said.
“So why not me? Why not make history? Why not change the dynamic a little bit and open-up a new avenue for these guys coming out Canada?”
North of the border
Watts likely wouldn’t have predicted he’d end up playing here.
He planned to attend Marygrove College in southern Michigan after two seasons at St. Clair Community College in Port Huron.
But Marygrove eliminated athletics, as well as all its undergraduate programs, at the end of 2017. The school also shut down its graduate programs in 2019, citing financial woes.
In the interim, Watts had to find a new place to play.
Brandon Padgett, a friend from Detroit, was one of Lambton’s best players at the time, and put the small Canadian school on Watts’ radar.
After discussions with Coach Grant, Watts attended open scrimmages in the spring of 2017 and found an immediate fit.
“I didn’t realize basketball was that big when I came to Canada,” he said. “But then it just kind of it just got bigger and bigger and bigger as I went on.”
Watts adjusted quickly to Canadian college’s FIBA-style play, and his versatility — the ability to play multiple styles and make an impact on both sides of the ball — became major strengths.
“The game is very fast in Canada,” he said. “It’s such a fast-paced game. So slowing the game down in my mind, and just just seeing everything before it goes down … was the biggest thing I tried to use.”
“It’s a hidden talent, but it did grow over time.”
The corny light-bulb jokes may have been inevitable for a player named Watts. His new Canadian teammates certainly didn’t shy away from them.
But the electricity metaphor developed more substance when people around campus started telling Watts he was always amped-up.
“I’m always energetic on defence,” he said. “I’m always active always trying to keep guys involved, always talking. I’m vocal and I try to be everywhere.”
Watts gave himself the nickname Amplified, and it stuck.
Announcers used it when introducing him with the starting lineups before games, and the longer he stayed in Canada, the more people got to know him as Jason “Amplified” Watts.
“It became something I just kind of carry around with me,” he said.
His time in Canada, though unexpected, led to tremendous growth as a player.
“It helped transform me a little bit more towards what basketball is now,” he said.
“Everybody’s spacing the floor. You’ve got to move. It’s a quicker game, and obviously Coach Grant was a huge part of the growth — teaching me his system and then using his system to succeed at the highest levels I could.”
Yes, religion can be a touchy subject.
Watts knows this, acknowledges it, understands it. But he also knows faith has helped him find the right path as a basketball player.
His pre-game ritual at Lambton was to pray and read the biblical Book of Job, an allegory in which the title character is repeatedly tested and afflicted, but manages to persevere.
Job’s suffering, and his perseverance, were encouraging metaphors for the idea that one person taking one step at a time through adversity can lead to a better destination.
“One step at a time, one play at a time, one basket at a time, one stop at a time — everything starts with one,” said Watts.
“That’s something I learned a long time ago. You keep going, and you keep pushing. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Just get through today.”