UConn Huskies Bring the Pack to the Final Four
ARLINGTON -- With 2:20 left in a game in mid-November, Connecticut senior guard Tor Watts made a play that changed his college career.
Forward Leon Tolksdorf passed to Watts, who dribbled the right side of the lane, his weak side, and scored on a layup. The fans went wild, his teammates erupted with joy, and Watts scored his first and only points of his four years with the Huskies.
“I just didn’t want to miss the layup or get blocked, so in my mind I was just, like, let me get the ball up there as fast as possible so I’m not embarrassed,” Watts said Friday at the Final Four.
Connecticut dominated the Detroit Titans, winning 101-55. Ryan Boatright scored 12 points. Shabazz Napier got eight rebounds and eight assists. But the highlight of the game was Watts.
A 22-year-old senior political science major at the University of Connecticut, Watts stands 6-feet-1, weighs just over 200 pounds and walked on as a freshman to play for the Huskies. He played only 13 minutes of a season that ends Monday in the NCAA national championship game.
Watts was a starting point guard for two seasons at York Prep in New York. He made big shots like the ones Boatright and Napier make now.
“I remember a buzzer-beater step-back jumper he hit against Packer in a huge out-of-league game for us his senior year,” said York Prep head coach Doug Hill. “It was a game winner that capped a huge comeback in a game that we were trailing the whole game. It propelled us into the state tournament.”
But he also became a model for younger players, Hill said.
“Tor got along with everyone,” he said. “He was a leader on and off the court.”
Watts considered playing at a Division II or Division III school. But he liked the academic program at Connecticut.
“I guess I picked the right decision because I’m at the University of Connecticut, playing basketball (in) the Final Four,” Watts said.
Reserves such as Watts are important, always there to lend a hand even though they know they might not play. At a Final Four practice, Watts wasn’t making baskets or taking shots. He was handing balls to the assistant coach or defending while a starter made a crossover and drove to the hoop.
Watts participated with a smile.
“I know I’m not going to be out there scoring 20 points, 10 assists,” he said. “I’m not Shabazz Napier, I’m no Ryan Boatright, but I get them ready in practice. I try my hardest to go as hard as I can to make the game easier for them, so I take it very seriously off the court.”
Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said winning championships is important. But so is building a team of good people, like Watts.
“Another level is not about winning championships,” Ollie said. “It’s about creating great young men so they can go out there in their community after they leave the Storrs campus and be ambassadors of their family, of their name, and also this great university.”
Watts embraced his role at Connecticut. Younger players, such as sophomore Nnamdi Amilo, needed veterans to understand the importance of a complete team.
“Tor and Pat Lenehan, the walk-ons, they’re people that always bring the energy everyday and throughout the season,” Amilo said. “I’ve just been trying to copy them and bring my own energy too, because I see how hard they work everyday and I kind of aspire to contribute to the team as much as those guys do.”
Watts likely will remember his senior season forever. Seeded No. 7 in the NCAA tournament, the Huskies upset Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State and Florida to advance to their fourth national championship game in program history.
“To everybody else we are the underdog, but to me, no,” Watts said. “We’ve been proving everyone wrong all season. I know how hard we work in practice, so I mean to me we’re not going to fail.”
*USBWA Scholarship Winner 2014: http://www.sportswriters.net/usbwa/news/2015/scholarship141112.html