“Defense is everything.”
Those are the words of Iowa State freshman forward Demarion Watson, who met with the media for the first time since joining the program on Thursday.
They’re the words of a player who knows exactly what it will take for him to work his way into the Cyclones’ rotation this winter and find his way onto the court with regularity.
Most freshmen come to college with dreams of averaging 20 points a game and knocking down big shots in big moments. While Watson surely has those dreams, he’s also thinking about locking down opposing teams’ best players and blocking shots into the seats at Hilton Coliseum.
He’s come to the right place.
“Defense wins championships,” Watson said. “Defense is what a lot of teams need to win. Just with my length, I have really long wingspan, seven foot almost. I use my length and just my agility as a taller, longer guy to be able to block shots and alter shots at the rim.”
That ability to alter shots at the rim was a significant key for T.J. Otzelberger and his staff as they started to put together their roster for the 2022-23 season.
It has been well documented how great Iowa State’s defense was during its breakout 2021-22 season that saw the program go from two wins the previous year to the Sweet 16.
That reversal was due in large part to the strength of its defense, ranking No. 5 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They were top-10 nationally in defending the 3-point line and forced turnovers at a top-15 rate.
The only problem — the Cyclones struggled to stop teams from scoring at the rim, ranking No. 219 nationally in opponent 2-point field goal percentage.
Enter St. Bonaventure transfer Osun Osunniyi, one of the best shot-blockers in all of college basketball. Enter VCU transfer Hason Ward, a bouncy forward who, along with Osunniyi, was considered one of the best defenders in the Atlantic 10 over the last several years.
And enter Watson, a 6-foot-6 three-star recruit from Minneapolis, who is already drawing rave reviews from the staff for his defensive prowess after only a few weeks with the program.
“I would say he’s been one of the most surprising in a positive way,” Iowa State assistant coach JR Blount to Cyclone Fanatic‘s Chris Williams during a podcast appearance earlier this week. “He is a different animal on defense, which I tell every freshman I recruit that’s how you get on the floor. Good luck coming in scoring 20 a game like you did in high school. It’s probably not happening, but if you come in and you can guard, and he can really do that, I mean at a high, high level.”
Blount went on to note how the simplicity in Watson’s game helps set him apart as a potential NBA prospect in the years to come. He protects the basketball offensively. He knocks down shots when he’s open. He crashes the offensive glass.
And he defends.
“I don’t predict like that but he’s got the potential to play at the highest level just based on what he does, his attributes. He wants to learn the game,” Blount said. “He’s got the highest ceiling probably of anybody on our team.”
All of the intangibles that Blount mentions, and that sky-high potential, are what made Watson one of the best defenders in Minnesota high school basketball last year. He averaged 14.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, which are certainly solid numbers for a player of Watson’s caliber.
There’s one number that jumps off the page, though, and that’s the insane 4.9 blocks per game he averaged during his senior season at Totino-Grace.
He helped his team win the Class AAA state championship, and was named to every all-state team imaginable. He was often listed on those teams alongside fellow Iowa State freshman Eli King, whose Calendonia squad was one of the few to best Watson’s Totino-Grace during their senior year.
Now, they’re teammates trying to make their way in college and make their mark on Iowa State’s 2022-23 campaign.
“It’s a blast,” King said. “He’s my roommate upstairs and he’s a really good guy. He’s a really good basketball player. It’s exciting to have him on my team now.”