The last time Creighton qualified for the NCAA tournament, the Bluejays were led by national player of the year Doug McDermott. That was in 2014, when Maurice Watson Jr. was a sophomore at Boston University. Three years later, Watson Jr. is leading the resurgent Bluejays (15–1, 3–1 Big East) and making noise for himself as a national player of the year candidate.
Watson Jr. grew up dreaming of becoming a Big East basketball star and playing in the NCAAs. A Philadelphia native, the 5' 10" Watson Jr. was a top-100 recruit in high school but didn’t get an offer from the school he wanted to play for, Villanova. Instead, he enrolled at Boston and became No. 3 in the nation in assists per game as a sophomore in 2013–14. When he decided to transfer after that season, there was no question which conference he would choose.
This off-season, after Watson Jr. averaged 14.1 points and 6.5 assists during his redshirt junior season, Creighton coach Greg McDermott (Doug’s father) challenged Watson to lead Division I basketball in assists. He’s done just that, averaging 9.1, a full assist per game greater than the player in second place. He’s also scoring 13.2 points and pulling in 2.6 rebounds per game.
“I felt like it was going to be easy when coach challenged me to [lead the country in assists],” Watson Jr. said, “and that’s because I saw how hard my teammates had been working . . . The fact that I’m having the success is all key to them because they’re making the baskets.”
The Bluejays rose to No. 8 in this week’s AP poll, the highest position the program has ever achieved. And Watson Jr. comes in at No. 9 in this week’s Wooden Watch.
Here are our top 10 candidates for national player of the year this week:
10. Ethan Happ, sophomore, Wisconsin — 13.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.9 apg
8. Malik Monk, freshman, Kentucky — 21.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.0 apg
7. De’Aaron Fox, freshman, Kentucky — 16.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 6.4 apg
6. Johnathan Motley, junior, Baylor — 15.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.1 apg
5. Luke Kennard, sophomore, Duke — 20.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.5 apg
4. Caleb Swanigan, sophomore, Purdue — 18.3 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 2.7 apg
3. Lonzo Ball, freshman, UCLA — 14.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 8.0 apg
2. Frank Mason, senior, Kansas — 20.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.6 apg
1. Josh Hart, senior, Villanova — 19.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.8 apg