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December 12, 2018

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Former Gorman standout C.J. Watson talks Zimmerman, his own NBA future

C.J. Watson

Mike McCarn / AP

Orlando Magic guard C.J. Watson (32) plays during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, March 16, 2016.

WASHINGTON — He’s playing for his fifth team in 10 NBA seasons, but former Bishop Gorman standout C.J. Watson’s stern-yet-humble demeanor, mixed with an occasional smile, was on full display Tuesday as his rebuilding Orlando Magic team ran through morning shootaround in the nation’s capital — just hours before an evening matchup with the hometown Washington Wizards.

Watson, who inked a three-year, $15 million contract with the Magic in 2015, averaged 28 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and six steals in his senior year at Bishop Gorman, and has stayed involved in the Las Vegas community through his annual Hoops for Hope summer camp at Doolittle Community Center and the Quiet Storm Foundation, both of which work to provide hope to youth of low-income families through basketball, education and health.

Though his numbers have dipped to a career-low 2.2 points and 1 assist through 22 games this season, both Watson and Magic head coach Frank Vogel said the former Gorman star is “here to stay” and will continue to fight for minutes off the bench for the Magic.

“He’s a big-time player, he’s very savvy with his shot-taking and defense,” said Vogel, who also coached Watson from 2013 to 2015 with the Indiana Pacers, during Tuesday’s shootaround. “You can always trust the level of play you’re going to get from C.J. on both ends.”

Watson, 32, who made his way to the NBA in early 2008 after going undrafted out of the University of Tennessee in 2006, spent the majority of his first two professional seasons between a team in Italy and the NBA Development League. He hopes he has at least three more NBA seasons ahead.

He sat down with the Sun on Tuesday to discuss his NBA future, other Las Vegas players in the League, the best NBA teams he has been a part of and some of the best players he has been asked to guard.

What have been some keys to your longevity in the NBA?

I think just staying healthy — avoiding injuries and taking care of myself — and also continuing to learn the game. I’m trying to get better every season.

Does it feel good to be reunited with Coach Vogel?

It’s good because he knows my game and I know his system, what he wants to be, the things he wants to do. I tell the guys what he’s looking for, stuff like that. It’s a good mix.

Were you happy when they drafted (former UNLV center) Stephen Zimmerman?

Yes! For some reason I had a feeling we were going to draft him, so it was pretty cool. I’m really glad he’s on the team.

What’s your relationship like with Zim and some of the other players from Las Vegas? Is there any kind of fraternity among Gorman grads in the NBA?

It’s a little different because we didn’t all go to school together, but of course I’m still pro-Gorman. So it’s great to see these guys get in the league and play well and do well.

Who are the toughest players you’ve defended in your NBA career?

I would say Deron Williams early in his career and Tony Parker. But now Kyrie (Irving) and Steph (Curry) are both pretty tough.

Point guard is tough every night, even as a backup, because you’re matched up against the other team’s starters all of the time. And there are some backups in the league who are very good and would be starters in a different situation. So, point guard-wise I think it’s the toughest.

Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry make sense, but what made Deron Williams so difficult to guard?

He’s big, strong, he was fast and he could shoot it. When guys have that freedom to do whatever they want on offense, you have to stay on your toes all night.

Who was the most talented teammate you played with?

I think Derrick Rose during his MVP year (2010-11 with the Chicago Bulls). He was doing some crazy things that year. He was one of the best players both to play with and to watch. He would make a crazy shot in games, but he’d make the same shots all of the time in practice.

How about the best team you’ve been a part of?

I went to the Eastern Conference finals twice. Once with the Bulls and once with the Pacers, but I think probably that Bulls team was my favorite team. Record-wise, we were the best team in the league and I really thought we had a chance to win it all actually if we could have made it to the finals.

You’ve played for five NBA teams over your 10-year career. Is it hard to develop chemistry with a team or really gel when you’re moving teams every two years on average?

I think so, because it takes time to know each other. You don’t want to step on guys’ toes or have guys mad at you, so you want to be on the good side of all your teammates.

After almost a decade, does playing in the NBA still feel surreal at all? Or do you feel more like a veteran at this point?

A little bit of both, I’m still grateful and it feels surreal, but I know how hard I worked and where I came from: overseas and then the D-League. I know how much time I put in so I want to keep working and always be grateful for it. Never take anything for granted.

Have you thought about life after the NBA yet?

A little bit, not really. It’s getting close but I want to play three or four more seasons.

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