This week's guest is one of the nicest most productive coaches of any sport on the high school level. Please enjoy as Kendrick E. Johnson shines the Sunday Spotlight on McKinney head boys basketball coach Wes Watson.
What are some special things associated with being the head man of the basketball program of the original high school in McKinney?
Watson: First and foremost, it’s the kids I’ve been blessed to work with through the years. We’ve been fortunate to have some great, hard-working young men, who have bought in to our culture, and our offensive and defensive philosophies. Keeping in contact with a lot of these guys through the years and seeing the success they are having in their lives is truly special.
Another thing about McKinney High School that is so special is the great camaraderie between all of the coaching staffs. I give Coach Smith a ton of credit for the great culture we have here.
We have great relationships with the other coaching staffs on our campus and are always pulling for each other. It’s a special place, our faculty here is terrific and I love what Mr. Arbabi is doing for our school.
He is at so many MHS events and has a tremendous heart for our kids and staff. So, being able to work with him and Coach Smith is awesome. I’m just immensely grateful for the opportunity to lead this program.
How does it feel to know the McKinney High basketball program is held in high regard throughout the state?
Watson: This one is really crazy, when I look back at the origins of it all. It does make me proud—proud and thankful for all of the people who have helped make it happen.
Again, first and foremost, I’m thankful of our players. Then, I think of all of the people who have given me the opportunities along the way, and who have entrusted me to lead this program, and all of the parents who have entrusted my staff and me to coach their kids.
I’ve been very fortunate to have some high character, hardworking kids on teams, who played incredibly hard. Their effort down to the last second of the last game of the season made me very proud. I am very grateful for the players on those early teams, because they were laying a cultural foundation for our program.
Since the 2005-2006 season when things really began to turn for our program we have made nine trips to the playoffs. Unfortunately, we ran into the Dallas ISD roadblock a number of those years in the second round.
We were bounced by Lincoln in 2009, eventual state champion Kimball in 2011, and South Oak Cliff in 2012.
In 2015 we beat a great Frisco Liberty team in the regional quarterfinals, before losing to eventual state champion Lancaster in the regional semifinals. So, remembering how it all started out and getting to where we are now is very gratifying.
But, it’s also taught me to never take winning for granted. I don’t think most people understand how incredibly difficult winning is, especially if you are a 5A/6A school in the DFW area. Thankfully, our players understand it.
What has been the most memorable team you have coached in your 18 years here at McKinney High?
Watson: I’ll say this, purely from the standpoint of a group that got the absolute most out of their abilities, the 2011 team has to be in the conversation.
We had a down year the previous season, only winning eight games and that spring and the fall leading up to that 2010-2011 season we got total buy-in from that group of players. We won 25 games that year, a 17-game improvement from the year before, tied for a district championship, and lost in the second round to a Dallas Kimball team that went on to win the state championship.
They were clearly the best team in the state that year, and completely overmatched us with their size and athleticism. But, we never flinched and stood toe-to-toe with them for most of the game.
As small as we were, we felt like we could play with anyone in the state. We just had the misfortune of catching Kimball in round 2 of the playoffs.
Explain the mindset of your team, which is thriving this season despite being constant underdogs in one of the best districts in the state?
Watson: Our guys have the mindset that when we step on the floor, we expect to be the hardest working team on the floor that night. Win or lose the other team better walk away knowing that they’ve been through a battle.
The fact that our team was probably overlooked, and even an afterthought to some going into the season, probably motivated our guys a bit. But, we just want to play up to the standard that we’ve set for ourselves. Our kids have a great deal of pride, and genuinely love to compete
What did you have to do to balance the offensive attack this season after leaning heavily on star point guard E.J. Clark last season?
Watson: Honestly, we haven’t really changed much offensively since we made the switch in style in 2010-2011. We’ve had two seasons where we’ve had the leading scorer in the area, A.J. Moutry in 2011-2012, and E.J. Clark last year, running the same stuff we run now.
In 2010-2011, we had two guys average close to 16 per game, our third leading scorer was close to 12 per game, and a lot of other guys contributed. We feel like what we do really fits our players, and that our players enjoy the freedom our style of play gives them.
Give me some insight to the feeling you get on the sidelines when the Lions get on a hot streak from three-point land and everybody’s hitting?
Watson: Oh, it’s a great feeling and it’s such a big part of today’s game, and certainly a big part of what we do. We haven’t really had a dominant post player that we can just walk it up the court and throw it to inside every possession.
We try to play fast, attack the paint in transition, put the defense in a bind, and get the ball moving. Ultimately, we’d like to finish the possession with a lay-up, free throws, or a clean look on a kick-out 3.
When those 3’s are falling, it opens up those driving lanes even more. And, let’s be honest, guys are always a little more eager to get up and play defense when their shots are falling. We really love it when our offense and defense can feed off of each other.
How big of a deal would it be for you and the program to reach the playoffs for the fourth year in a row?
Watson: I love this team!! When we had meetings with the returners from last year back in the spring there was a ton of excitement about what we can achieve this season.
I think all our returning players probably thought they’d be overlooked, because we graduated three terrific players last year. That motivated them along with getting in the playoffs last year and losing in the second round because these guys want another taste of that. Getting in the playoffs out of district 6-6A is an extremely impressive feat.
This group is really special to our coaching staff, and we really want to see them play their best basketball and get into the playoffs because it’s a big deal to us and former players.
Will playing in a new district and region benefit the program over the next two seasons?
Watson: Losing Denton Guyer means losing a team that is almost assured of a playoff spot. We’ve played a lot of great teams since I’ve been here, but none as talented offensively as Guyer.
So, I don’t think any of the other seven teams in 6-6A are going to miss them. We did, however, enjoy the challenge of playing them, and we feel we competed very well against them in three of those games.
Wylie is really good this year, and they have a great program too.
We lose those two and gain two perennial playoff teams in Jesuit and Prosper. So, the district is still going to be ultra-competitive.
When you’re a 6A team in the DFW area there’s really no place to hide. You’re going to be in a tough league.