Last season may have been Nebraska’s most successful since 2013-14, but 2017-18 was a different story for Glynn Watson Jr. individually.
The dynamic point guard — Tim Miles’ highest-rated high school recruit to sign with Nebraska so far — earned his way into the starting lineup as a freshman and put up 8.6 points per game. His ability to break down defenses and get buckets late in the shot clock became invaluable to that team, but for the season he was only able to hit 26.7 percent of his 3s.
As a sophomore, Watson entered the season as one of the team’s go-to guys from the start, and improved tremendously from the perimeter to the point where he shot almost 40 percent on almost twice the attempts as he did his freshman season.
Miles had high expectations for Watson his junior season, calling him an all-conference player heading into the year. For whatever reason, though, the 6-foot guard struggled tremendously. The 3-point stroke that had improved so much the previous year abandoned him, falling to 29.1 percent. His scoring inside the arc suffered as well as his 2-point percentage dipped more than 50 points to a putrid 37.6 percent. He wasn’t hitting shots from the perimeter, the mid-range or even at the rim on a consistent basis.
“It was real tough,” Watson said. “I just missed easy shots that I normally thought I would make. I was holding it against myself, things that I shouldn’t have. I should have just been going to the next play and maybe I would have made it. If I missed five, just knowing I can make the next five.”
Watson said his problems stemmed both from something of a mental block as well as some mechanical issues.
“I was thinking about it so much that I thought I needed to change the mechanics of it when I was able to shoot well as a sophomore,” Watson said. “I’ve always been able to have a decent shot. I think it was more me thinking about it, more mental than me changing stuff; I didn’t have to.”
The Huskers went 28-37 (.431) Watson’s first two seasons but jumped to 22-11 last season with a dramatically different roster make-up. Miles said Watson struggled bit to find his place on last season’s squad.
“Glynn had it great as a freshman and sophomore from the aspect of coach put him out there, any shot’s a good shot, and the other guys that were that were great at his position were guards, like-size guys,” Miles said. “It’s easy to play off a guard. Now, we’ve got a wing, a power forward and a hybrid center; it’s really different. Finding your niche, especially because we play a lot of free play basketball, skill development basketball with motion ideas so you have freedom as a player and Glynn, I think, as he’s fit into that and understood where he fits and when his time is right and when his shots are there, he’s gotten more confident and we’ve gotten a lot better.”
Watson knew Nebraska needed more out of him and got to work over the offseason to make sure last year’s struggles stayed in the past. The Huskers have big goals this season and Watson is a big part of that.
“I hope we can exceed expectations because there’s nobody that deserves it more than Glynn,” Miles said. “This summer, I was out in the western United States and he came back on campus and he texted me, ‘Coach, I’m back on campus; I’m here.’ That’s always nice to see when they let you know they’re getting back from their three-week or month-long break. Then the next day he texted me, ‘Coach, I can’t wait to lead this team and take Nebraska basketball places it’s never been before.’ I literally almost cried because that just meant so much to me knowing what he’s been through, seeing teammates leave. Having a really excellent season last year but having it go not where we wanted it to go.
“He was the first guy in my office after spring break saying, what can I do to be better for this team. Wasn’t worried about playing time, wasn’t worried about his role, how many shots he was getting, he just wants to win and wants to be in the middle of it. Pretty cool stuff, Glynn’s a great kid. I’m proud of him.”
If there’s one area the Huskers are lacking in despite their experience with four returning starters, it’s vocal leadership. Watson isn’t overly talkative on the court by nature, but he’s trying to change that and Miles is counting on him to do so.
“You always start with your point guard,” Miles said. “Glynn’s been through so much more with us and me that I think he gets it. He’s been in the Big Ten longer than anybody else, too. That’s important.”
A big change for Watson over the offseason was the addition of new assistant coach Armon Gates to the program. His hands-on coaching style and non-stop energy has had an impact on every player on the team, perhaps none more so than Watson.
“Big-time energy boost,” Miles said about Gates. “I think he’s been good for Glynn. You’ve got a Chicagoland guy who played Division I basketball, was a good guard, went to the NCAA Tournament, and you’ve get Glynn, the same exact thing. I think it’s a great opportunity to learn from him.”
Now, Watson is looking to carry over all of his offseason work into one last run as a Huskers. Miles has high expectations for his senior point guard.
“I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see Glynn have a very good year,” Miles said. “Even when his shot struggled a little bit against Iowa State, he had eight or nine assists or four steals or five steals. I really think Glynn is completely cool with who he is and what he brings to the table, and he’s about us. That’s been well-documented and it’s just the proof’s in the pudding. He’s the one dude that’s been through the EKG with me. I really look for a big year out of Glynn Watson.”
Watson shot 2-of-8 from 3 in Nebraska’s closed scrimmage against Iowa State and followed that up with a 1-of-4 performance in the exhibition game against Wayne State, but he flipped the switch when the games started to count and led the Huskers with 19 points including 5-of-7 from deep in the season-opening 106-37 win over Mississippi Valley State.
“It’s got to be a shot in the arm,” Miles said about the performance. “Glynn has shot it — we keep showing him the data, the stats in practice, his numbers are really good. And so like we said, ‘there’s a return to the mean and it’s going to happen for you.’ I’m happy for Glynn.”
Watson said his shot is feeling good and he’s comfortable with where he is at this point in his career. He knows his role now.
“Just knowing what options I have, knowing what weapons I have,” Watson said. “I’ve got a lot of weapons around me so it makes my job easier. I don’t have to force as many things … It’s just finding when to attack, it’s knowing that I have these types of guys on my team, that I don’t have to do as much.”
That being said, Miles said he still wants Watson to be himself and to make plays individually when the situation calls for it.
“He can still take over a game,” Miles said. “A ball-in-the-hand guard like Glynn, great at the end of the shot clock and you need that. Glynn can get separation, he can get a shot off, he can make high-level shots, he can make difficult shots. He’s always been a smaller dude. He’s quick, he’s such a good ball-handler, and he’s so quick into his shot that you need a guy like that … That’s only getting more important as they changed, like offensive rebounds now it resets to 20, so it’s even more critical now as we go forward.”
In order to live up to expectations and do something no Nebraska team has ever done before, the Huskers are going to need a bounce-back season from Glynn Watson Jr. With his 5-for-7 performance in the season-opener, the senior is off to a great start.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.