While those players have garnered most of the headlines, a walk-on has quietly established himself as one of the top players on the team.
Forced to sit out the first semester of the season because of academic concerns along with the possibility of redshirting, sophomore guard Nathan Watson has burst onto the scene since the Tigers traveled to Puerto Rico for a holiday tournament. Making the San Juan Shootout all-tournament team as Auburn won the championship, Watson quickly became a key figure in Auburn's rotation and hasn't looked back since.
"I worked hard in the offseason and worked hard while I was sitting out to get back going with the team," Watson says. "I wasn't really surprised. I was expecting to play a lot this year. I'm just going out there and executing and playing hard."
Nathan Watson at Georgia.
An All-State selection out of Fort Payne, Watson averaged 24 points a game as a senior and totaled a school-record 1,750 points in his career. A McDonald's All-American nominee, he was highly thought of but when it came time to sign a scholarship he decided that he wanted to play at Auburn even if it meant he had to walk on. Two seasons later it looks like the move has paid off for both parties involved.
"It took a lot of getting used to," Watson says of the transition from high school to college. "From not being as strong as everyone to everything. I had to get used to that during the offseason. That's one thing that helped me out a lot was playing with the team during the summer getting used to the physical nature of the game. I got used to it and adjusted to it."
After averaging just two points per game as a freshman in 15 games with a season high of seven points against Georgia, Watson has improved his numbers since being inserted into the lineup in late December. Averaging 8.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game this season, including a season high 19 points against Denver, Watson says that it has been fun becoming a bigger part of the team this year.
"It felt real good," Watson notes. "We did work real hard in the offseason and during the summer playing with each other and learning each other. We just stayed together as a team. I'm kind of glad nobody is expecting us to do well. It just pushes us harder to play harder and to execute."
Back at home after two road losses at No. 7 Kentucky and No. 15 Georgia, Watson says this team isn't concerned about getting back on the winning track. Confident that they have what it takes to take care of business at home, the sophomore says this team is determined to hold serve at Beard-Eaves.
"We played real good on the road actually," Watson says. "I'm not worried about coming in here and losing a home game. We have to keep our home court advantage. I think we're going to come in here and play hard and have good results."
A long shot in most people's eyes to make the NCAA Tournament before the season began, the Tigers are now in prime position to make the big dance this year. With three straight home games starting with Saturday's 3 p.m. game vs. Tennessee, now is the time for Auburn to try to extend its one-game lead over Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the SEC West. Watson says the Tigers can't be concerned with what lies ahead past Saturday's game.
"We're just going to take it game by game," Watson says of what's waiting down the road for this team. "I think we're going to go pretty far if we just stay together as a team. We just have to keep playing together and we'll go pretty far."