Providence big man works to inspire friend while chasing his NBA dream

As Madison Square Garden roared its approval at every emphatic dunk from Nate Watson in Providence’s upset win over No.1 seed Xavier Friday night, Friars head coach Ed Cooley didn’t just see a freshman helping key the third-biggest comeback in Big East tournament history.

He saw a vision of Watson’s NBA future.

“He’s going to play in this building some day,” Cooley said. “He was great today. He was unbelievable.”

Watson contributed 14 points on five of six shooting in a season-high 28 minutes when the Friars needed him to help save them from the frying pan’s fire in their second-straight overtime game.

His box score was loud, and Watson is content to let his game do the talking. His postgame press conference was as quiet as the Garden was loud, with his hot pink Nike shoes making a more vibrant statement than any of the words Watson had to offer the mass of reporters.

But those shoes offered more meaning than any pithy postgame quotes could anyway. Watson might be hoping to chase NBA dreams at some point, but for now he’s just trying to support his friend and former high school teammate at Bishop O’Connell high school, Jake Berry, deal with a cancer diagnosis.

“It was hard,” Watson said. “I think he’s doing good now, but I wear these for him.”

Watson actually planned to give the shoes to Berry, but the high school sophomore is a size 16 to Watson’s 18, so instead the 6-foot-10, 260-pound center is trying to inspire his friend with his play on the court.

“The pink, I love pink. I’ve just got to do it for him,” Watson said.

So since Berry can’t walk in Watson’s shoes, the freshman big man is trying to make his friend proud by putting them to good use as he chases his NBA dream. Praise like the Garden vision his coach opined upon after the best game of his young career fuels his belief he can make it a reality.

“That’s my dream, and I want to do that someday,” Watson said. “I feel like that’s possible. I’ve got to keep working, keep lifting and putting extra work in. I’ve got to keep going.”

Where the brightly colored sneakers he wears to inspire his friend will take him is anyone’s guess, but Cooley is hoping that even if Watson is eventually headed on a journey that will have him playing in arenas like MSG more frequently that he’ll always be a Friar.

“Nate is a wrecking ball in there,” Cooley said. “The more confident he is the more he’s learning. We love him. We hope he’s with us forever.”

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