Watson overcomes injury-riddled team to deliver memorable season

Maryville College senior Eryk Watson reacts after a big basket for the Scots this season.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Maryville College senior Eryk Watson reacts after a big basket for the Scots this season.

Watson brings the ball past the timeline as Maryville coach Randy Lambert looks on.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Watson brings the ball past the timeline as Maryville coach Randy Lambert looks on.

Eryk Watson began his Maryville College career as the Great South Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year. The slick, sweet-shooting guard is leaving four years later an All-American.

Watson was notified over the weekend that D3hoops.com had named him to its second team, the high-scoring Scot making the list from a pool of 680 Division III players nationally. The Powder Springs, Ga., native finished as Maryville’s second all-time leading scorer, pouring in 1,943 points for an 18.1 points per game career average.

Those numbers pale when it comes to what Watson dropped on opponents this past season. His 3-point shooting skyrocketed as a senior, finishing at a near lethal 47.2 percent, good enough eighth-best nationally. His 3.6 treys per game were sixth best.

“That’s impressive,” Maryville coach Randy Lambert said. “Most of the guys that shoot a high percentage aren’t making that many per game.”

It was Watson’s 24.1 points per game that really impressed, though, Lambert said, and not necessarily for the reason you might think.

“Everybody knew (this past season) what you had to do to beat Maryville,” he said, “and that was to stop or contain Eryk Watson. Not many people did.”

Watson’s spectacular season was born partly out of necessity. He’d honed the stroke on jumper with 300 made 3-pointers a day working with personal trainer Dezz McCain over the summer back home in Georgia. It would fit perfectly with the lineup Maryville would have returning for his senior year.

“I knew my senior year I wanted to be as fully prepared as I could,” Watson, a business management major, said.

Then senior forward Ben Williamson tore his ACL over summer and was lost for year. Then point guard Jordan Damron decided to walk away from basketball and transferred to Tennessee. Then shooting guard Wes Lambert was lost for the season with a knee injury not long after Damron’s departure.

“I knew it was going to be tough,” Watson said. “The mentality I have, going back to high school, is you have to be tough and just get the job done.”

Mission accomplished, Lambert said.

“He saw it as an opportunity,” Lambert said, “win or miss, real simple.

“He matured as a leader for this team, and he definitely became more basketball savvy. He got to the point where he knew the game so well he knew what I wanted out there as a coach.”

The loss of three returning starters saw the Scots (16-10) get off to an unusually slow start, with Watson forced to increasingly carry more and more of the scoring load. Fellow seniors Milton Stanley and Dustin Brown closed ranks with Watson and the Scots roared to life after the Christmas break, winning 12 of their last 15 games.

“I had a lot of fun this year,” Watson said. “This group of guys just grew up quick. This team really battled hard. It brought us closer together, and that’s something I’ll take with me the rest of my life.”

With a player of Watson’s caliber leading the charge, you can’t help but wonder what might have been, Lambert said.

“It was a satisfactory year from the standpoint of getting out of this team what I thought they could give us,” he said.

In becoming only the fourth Maryville All-American in Lambert’s 30-plus seasons as coach, Watson, as the numbers indicate, gave a little bit more.

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