By Scott Jarosz ’21
Nate Watson ’21 played his first official game with the Providence College Men’s Basketball Team on Nov. 10, 2017. On this day, PC squared off with Houston Baptist University at Alumni Hall. Despite being a freshman at the time, Watson showed no signs of nervousness and made his presence known from the start, shooting four of five from the field while registering nine points and grabbing six rebounds.
Now, in his final year at PC, Watson’s growth and development as a player is on full display. Also, fittingly enough, PC’s home court for the 2020-2021 season is Alumni Hall, where Watson made his official debut in a PC uniform. Although he may be playing on the same court where he played his first game as a Friar, Watson is a much different player now. His confidence and strength on the court is unmatched, and he has established himself as one of the most dominant centers in not only the Big East Conference, but also in the entire nation.
So far this season, Watson has averaged 17.2 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game. His average of 17.2 points per game is good enough to place him fifth amongst all scorers in the Big East this season. Watson is also scoring efficiently, posting a field goal percentage of 61 percent this season, placing him second in field goal percentage among Big East players. In addition to these impressive averages, Watson also joined the 1,000-point club this season on Dec. 20, 2020 in PC’s game against Seton Hall University. On top of that, on Jan. 20, Watson scored 29 points against Creighton University, which marks his career-high single-game point total.
Watson’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, as the fourth-year player has been named one of 10 finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award. As the name suggests, this award is given to the best center in college basketball every season. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a standout center at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he led his team to three consecutive National Championship victories from 1967-1969.
Watson’s appearance on the list is rather fitting, as Abdul-Jabbar will be the keynote speaker at PC’s fourth annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m.
During his time at UCLA, Abdul-Jabbar was recognized as the National College Player of the Year in both 1967 and 1969. He would then go on to have one of the most successful careers in NBA history. In the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar was a 19-time All-Star, six-time Most Valuable Player, and six-time NBA Champion. He also holds the NBA all-time scoring record. Many consider him to be one of the greatest basketball players ever.
Given Abdul-Jabbar’s tremendous accomplishments in the basketball world, it is quite the accomplishment for Watson to be named a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award. However, Abdul-Jabbar’s impact goes far beyond basketball. At a young age, he was passionate about racial and social justice. Abdul-Jabbar grew up in Harlem and joined the Harlem Youth Action Project in his final year of high school. The project’s purpose was to educate Black youth and prepare them for the future.
Additionally, Abdul-Jabbar served as a journalist for HYAP, covering a variety of events held by the organization. His activism did not stop there. After completing high school, Abdul-Jabbar arrived at UCLA not only to play basketball, but also to fight for justice. During his time there, Abdul-Jabbar headed movements to promote better treatment of Black athletes and Black students on campus. Abdul-Jabbar’s strength and leadership started to catch people’s attention as he fought for the causes he believed in.
Despite knowing that his activism could have negative consequences, Abdul-Jabbar continued to be outspoken on the topic of racial justice throughout his professional career. He has also remained active throughout his retirement. “I know it came at a price,” Abdul-Jabbar said of his outspoken nature, “but being able to have an identity that is in harmony with who I am, what my ancestry is about and what my moral and political feelings are, that was the most important thing.” He continued, “That’s one of the wonderful things about life in America. We can all define ourselves and have the freedom to speak our minds and pursue the things that make us feel whole and make us feel useful.”
Indeed, Abdul-Jabbar is not only one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but also one of the most impactful activists of his time. Watson being named a finalist for Abdul-Jabbar’s award is a huge achievement in itself, and one made even more impactful by both Abdul Jabbar’s on-the-court and off-the-court legacy.
The two will be further connected on Feb. 11 when Abdul-Jabbar speaks to the PC student body. One of Watson’s teammates, David Duke ’22, will be a moderator at the event. All students and members of the PC community are encouraged to register and attend the event via Zoom.