In the world of recruiting, time moves pretty quickly. We aren’t far removed from the Class of 2017 making their decisions, and we’re already moving past the Class of 2018 to introduce you to players from the Class of 2019 that are currently sophomores in high school! We’ve introduced you to a handful of players from the Class of 2019 over the last few weeks, and today we’ll meet another.
He’s a 3-star shooting guard from Old Redford Academy in Detroit. He already has seven scholarship offers, including one from Michigan State (Marquette, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, UAB, Detroit and Oakland are the others). Along with the offers, he also has interest from Michigan, Iowa, Cincinnati, Missouri, Xavier, Alabama and TCU. At 6’0”, 160 pounds, he fills that “hybrid” role that Michigan State manages to recruit and produce remarkably well (that combo player of Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine). His name is Mark Watts…better known as “Rocket.”
“It was very exciting,” Watts told Spartan Nation in an exclusive interview one-on-one from Old Redford Academy of what it was like to get the call from Tom Izzo offering him a scholarship. “I was at the mall that day and we had just gotten a big win – [Izzo] called me and I was real happy to hear from him. He told me that I had a scholarship to go there and I was real happy.”
Rocket said it was amazing to know that Izzo and Michigan State, along with a handful of other coaches and schools, want to offer him a scholarship to play a game he loves so much. But beyond his skills the court, his academics take precedence.
“You’ve gotta do good in the classroom to get to the next level – to play basketball, you have to have good grades,” he explained. “My coach is on me everyday. That’s what I’ve gotta do to achieve my goal.”
The coach he referenced is Craig Covington from Old Redford Academy. Even he admits that Rocket puts a priority on his academics, and for good reason.
“He has to,” Covington told Spartan Nation. “I can’t say that he’s always been like that, but once he realized that he has a chance to go to college and be a college athlete, he took pride in saying, ‘If I have to do it, I have to do it.’ Like all kids, he gets lazy at times, but I don’t let him fall. Sometimes I know he gets tired of hearing it, but he understands that, if he doesn’t do it, he’s not going to reach the goal that he really wants to get to.”
Rocket eventually wants to play college basketball and get to the NBA…that’s the end goal. And his unique skill set is his ticket to get him to each successive level.
“First of all, he’s a prime time scorer – he really knows how to put the ball in the basketball at all levels,” Coach Covington admitted. “Now, he’s really learning how to get his teammates involved – he’s making his teammates better and is not being labeled as just a scorer. He’s taking more pride on the defensive end and rebounding. He’s also taking pride in making sure guys are in the right positions to get baskets.”
“Everybody says that I’m just a scorer, so I have to prove everybody wrong and show everyone I’m a good teammate – pick my teammates up when they’re down, get assists…that’s really the key,” Rocket added.
Rocket actually said that he’d prefer to get a big assist rather than hit a big 3. Coach Covington appreciates the “team mindset” Rocket takes in saying that, but he doesn’t necessarily completely agree with it, especially in Rocket’s case.
“He has great basketball IQ, especially for his age. In my program, I probably would prefer him taking the last shot. But if he makes the right pass and we get the win, we get the win! 9 times out of 10, if it comes down to making that decision, I would want the ball in his hands,” Covington said.
Let’s bring things back to Michigan State. Rocket has been on campus multiple times and has attended basketball games before, so he’s no stranger to East Lansing. He’s also no stranger to Tom Izzo.
“As a man, I have the utmost respect [for him],” Watts said of Izzo. “As a coach, I can say he’s a great coach and seems like a coach that’ll stay on you and won’t let you slip and will push you to the best of your ability.”
That’s the kind of environment Rocket says he excels in – one in which he’s pushed, not coddled. It’s the same thing with Coach Covington and the team at Old Redford Academy. As a matter of fact, there is a similarity in the way in which Coach Izzo and Coach Covington manage their teams.
“My goal is, when I have players that can play at the next level, I have to coach them a little different and be a little harder on them because I don’t want any of them to go off to college and not be able to take the criticism,” Covington admitted. “He has to have some thick skin to be able to play through his mistakes, but also be able to be criticized and taught and ‘coached up’ – that’s the reason why I coach the way I do…I try to coach my team as if it were a college team.”
And Covington has been lucky to coach one of the top players in the nation for the Class of 2019 in Mark “Rocket” Watts. Michigan State’s hat is already in the ring for this unique player who brings more to the table than just a quality jump shot.
Perhaps Coach Covington best sums up “Rocket” - skilled on the court, skilled in the classroom and skilled in knowing how to carry himself with the utmost class and dignity.
“He’s very humble,” Covington said. “He walks around here and you’d never know he was one of the top basketball players in the state. He doesn’t brag about it and I don’t even think he really likes all the attention. He’s real, he stays to himself, he’s quiet – he’s just a genuinely good man.”