'The NBA guy'

He was a quality point guard as a senior at Tennessee in 2005-06 but he wasn't ready to play in the National Basketball Association. By 2008-09, however, he was good enough to start 18 games for the Golden State Warriors.

So what did C.J. Watson gain between '06 and '08 that enabled him to find a home in The League?

"Just the mental toughness and focus," he said during a break in Monday night's Rocky Top summer league action. "You have to be ready to compete every night."

You have to compete every night for 82 games, in fact. That's quite an adjustment for a guy accustomed to a 32-game college schedule.

"It was real difficult but I played in the D (Developmental) League first and got used to playing back-to-back nights," he explained. "You get used to it after a while. The first year is probably the toughest, going through the traveling and all the ups and downs."

Former Vol coach Buzz Peterson used to joke that Watson had a "third lung" because of his remarkable stamina. That stamina comes in handy when you're playing 82 games that last 48 minutes each.

"It really does," Watson said. "You've got to stay in shape and keep working out. You can't take any days off."

Following his UT career Watson played professionally in Italy and Greece in 2006. He participated in the NBA Summer league in 2007, then joined the NBA Developmental League. He was averaging 26.4 points and 5.3 assists per game for the Grande Valley Vipers when the Warriors called. Signed to a 10-day trial contract on Jan. 8, 2008, he wound up winning the backup point-guard role for the remainder of the season.

Watson just completed his first full season with the Warriors, averaging 24.5 minutes, 9.5 points and 2.7 assists per game. He shot 45.7 percent from the field, 40.0 percent from 3-point range and 87.0 percent from the foul line.

So, what's the biggest difference between the NCAA and the NBA?

"The quickness and speed," he said. "Everybody's good. There's not any players that are just average, so you've got to be ready to play every night."

Watson played just one season under current UT head coach Bruce Pearl but he believes Pearl's uptempo system helped ease his transition into the pro ranks.

"It wasn't just one thing," he said, "but the speed of the game – trying to play faster than everybody else – helped prepare me for the NBA."

Being "the NBA guy" among a bunch of amateurs makes Watson something of a marked man in the Rocky Top League. He scored 31 points in each of his first two RTL games, 14 in Games 3 and 4. Although he is expected to bring his A-Game every night, he says he feels no pressure.

"Not really," he said. "As long as I'm having fun, whatever happens, happens, and you just leave it at that. I just want to go out, compete and win games."

Watson sports a tattoo designating himself "Quiet Storm." The term fits. As a Vol he showed virtually no emotion, on the court or off. Based on his first four outings in the Rocky Top League, he hasn't changed. You wonder if he ever will.

"Probably not," he said, flashing the slightest hint of a smile.


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