Mount St. Mary's guard Alex Watson was about to put the ball in play in a recent game when a man seated in the front row began a chant that would last the entire night: "Dunk the ball, Alex."
It made no difference to him that Watson, who had scored two points, had dominated the game with his rebounding. Or that Watson, at 6 feet 3, had blocked two shots of a player 7 inches taller. Or that his passes to wide-open teammates had helped keep the Mountaineers in the game. The fan was unimpressed.
"C'mon, Alex, just dunk the ball."
"Yeah, I heard him," Watson said last week in the dining room of his home in West Baltimore. "I wanted to tell him to shut up. It's something I've been hearing for so long. It seems that's all some people want to see."
Such is the life of Watson, the Mount St. Mary's point guard, who, for four seasons, has been dazzling the crowds at Knott Arena in Emmitsburg with some of the best slam dunks this side of Michael Jordan. But those high-flying acts tend to overshadow the ability of a player who is leading his team in scoring (14.5), rebounds (7.1), assists (7.5), steals (3.0) and blocked shots (1.6).
He played his high school ball at Mount St. Joseph, and his college is located in a rural town more than an hour from Baltimore. But those who have seen him are impressed by one of the most talented -- and most intense -- players in the area.
"Watson is a tough competitor and is so hard to play," said Holy Cross coach George Blaney. "If you play him with a guard, he overpowers you. If you play him with a forward, he goes around you. He has tremendous talent."
After finishing 16-12 last year and a surprising third in their first year in the Northeast Conference, the Mountaineers were looking to contend for the league title. Instead, injuries that forced the redshirting of last year's leading scorer, Kevin Booth (knee), and backup guard Doug John (back) have left Mount St. Mary's with a 1-7 record.
"We were two wins from winning the conference last year, and was really planning on winning it this year," Watson said. "The injuries are a factor, but it's also the fact of not playing well enough to win. And that's very frustrating."
As a senior in high school, Watson was the cog of a team that finished at the bottom of the Catholic League.
"I got early interest from Oklahoma State, Connecticut and La Salle, but by signing later in the year, and my team not being so good, nobody came to see us play," Watson said. "If I signed in the beginning, I wouldn't be at Mount St. Mary's. In the end, it was the only school to offer me a scholarship.
"The dissipation of the letters didn't bother me. It just kind of bothered me that some people doubted me. People thought I could play but only at a limited level."
So he took his act to the Mount and made an immediate impact. As a freshman, he started 22 games, and his 62.8 percent success from the field was a school record.
He finished his sophomore year second on the team in blocks and rebounds and was the team's co-Player of the Year after his junior year, when he led the league in blocked shots (1.8) and steals (2.0) and was second in assists (5.6) and eighth in rebounds (6.8). He did that as a point guard, even though he probably is better suited to small forward.
"I guess I would consider myself a natural point guard, but my skills sometimes don't match the position I play," Watson said. "My natural skills are under the bucket, but I'm not big enough for that."
An unselfish player who never was much of a scorer (he averaged 11.3 points as a high school senior, and his best college average before was 11.9 as a freshman), Watson is expected to score this season and is 12 points shy of his 1,000th.
"I consider myself a player, and a player is someone who can do everything," Watson said. "A person who can just shoot is not a player -- he's a shooter. I'd like to consider myself a well-rounded athlete who can rebound, steal the ball, make a pass and block a shot."
And dunk. Down eight against Holy Cross, Watson came down court on a fast break midway through the second half. A simple dunk would have sufficed. Instead, Watson stopped just in front of the basket, threw the ball in the air, jumped, caught it and slammed it backward.
"It's instinct. It helps get the aggression out sometimes," Watson said. "Was that dunk risky? If you know you can't do it, you don't go beyond your limitations. As far as dunking is concerned, I don't have any limitations."
Watson's basketball career most likely will end in late February. He may warrant a look by a National Basketball Association team, but Watson is a realist.
"There are probably thousands of college players out there with the same ability thinking the same things that I am," Watson said. "The road to the NBA is there for someone like Billy Owens, but if you're on the 'maybe-you-can, maybe-you-can't' level, you better get your degree [he majors in business and finance]."
Looking back, Watson is happy the way things have turned out. And, if he were to do it all over again, not much would change.
"A lot of guys go to a Big East or ACC school because of their ego, and when they get there, no one ever hears of them again," Watson said. "If you have the skills to go to a Georgetown and play, go. But if you are there to just be on the team, then it's just a waste of time.
"Mount St. Mary's was better for me because of the things I was able to do. Another program I may not have been able to score 1,000 points or grab 400 rebounds. It all turned out OK."
Year-by-year statistics for Mount St. Mary's point guard Alex Watson:
Avg. Avg. Avg.
Year pts. reb. asst.
1987-88 11.9 3.7 2.6
1988-89 8.4 5.4 2.0
1989-90 11.6 6.8 5.6
1990-91 14.5 7.1 7.5