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Hall of Famer Perry Watson reflects on Titans, Fab 5

By VITO CHIRCO/ VN SPORTS EDITOR
On February 11, 2015

BY VITO CHIRCO

VN Sports Editor

 

The man who changed the dynamic of Detroit Titans men’s basketball finally has his place in the Hall. 

Not Dick Vitale. (He’s there, too.) But Perry Watson, the former Detroit Southwestern High School head coach and current Orlando Magic scout who was inducted recently into the Titans Hall of Fame.

Watson, who played an integral role on U-M’s famous Fab Five teams, was recruited to UDM in 1993 by former university president Sister Maureen A. Fay, who pitched to him a strong emphasis on education and building relationships. 

It was an easy decision for Watson after he realized he had achieved all he could while at Michigan. 

His tenure with the Wolverines included a “whole lot of highs” and gave Watson the chance to coach and mentor future NBA stars Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose and Chris Webber. 

All about building close bonds with his players, Watson did just that with the guys who made wearing saggy shorts famous in the early ’90s.  

While getting to know three of the greatest U-M basketball players of all-time, he also got to know them off the basketball floor and witness their development into men. 

Rose, for instance, always was the player that brought the rest of the Fab Five together during times of conflict, according to Watson. 

Thus, it was early on when Watson saw leadership abilities out of Rose that would later enable him to start his own charter high school in northwest Detroit, the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. 

“He was the glue to the team, making the team function smoothly,” Watson said. 

And Rose has been the guy that’s been trying to get the team back together since implications of wrongdoing stripped the Fab Five of all its accomplishments.

Once a close-knit group, it is no longer, primarily because of former NBA All-Star power forward Chris Webber.

According to Watson, Webber – still to this day – believes that no one’s telling the real story about the downfall of the Fab Five era, despite the presence of the Rose-produced ESPN “30 for 30” documentary, which sufficiently depicts the era, according to many critics.

The feeling of disappointment expressed in Rose’s documentary regarding the back-to-back national championship game appearances being taken away is genuine, according to Watson.

The 64-year-old said that many sacrifices were made to achieve what was wiped away from the U-M basketball program in 2002 when sanctions were handed down against it due to Webber and others taking money from booster Ed Martin.

The sanctions ended the university’s acknowledgment of the team’s accomplishments during the 1992 and 1993 NCAA tournaments.

The impact of the Fab Five is still felt to this day, which is why Watson hopes the quintet will re-unite.

Does he believe it will happen, however?

If Webber clears up the bad feelings that he presently holds about U-M with new athletic director Jim Hackett, Watson believes it will.

It’s about time for it to happen, just as was the case when Watson took over at UDM in 1993 after his two-year stint on the bench with the Wolverines.

During his nearly 15 full seasons in the Titan job – he took a leave of absence from his perch in January 2008 that he never returned from – he compiled 261 victories and 10 winning campaigns, good for an average of 17 wins per season. But he did a lot more than just coach basketball.

He also became known for being a popular face within and outside the community with frequent visits from former Detroit mayors Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick during his UDM tenure.

He embraced the city of Detroit, and popular local legend even saw him conversing with Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch in Ilitch’s personal office.

This level of involvement with the community enabled UDM to garner a tremendous amount of positive recognition, which didn’t hurt when it came to recruiting the likes of former Horizon League players of the year Jermaine Jackson, all-time leading scorer Rashad Phillips and current NBAer Willie Green.

While Jackson jump-started the recruiting process for Watson at UDM and while Phillips became known as the player touted by Los Angeles Lakers legend and future NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant as the “best player never drafted,” neither player quite had the memorable story of Green – one that signifies the type of coach Watson was for the Titans.

Green, an education major, was an easy selection for the all-newcomer of the year team during his rookie campaign at UDM in 2000. However, after being picked to the second-team all-conference squad as a sophomore, he failed to repeat such success as a junior.

Subsequently, Watson was surprised when Green told him after three years at the university that he wanted to pursue an NBA career following his senior campaign.

Watson told Green how vital it was for him to get in better shape, and Green followed suit.

In the process, he made what Watson believes is the “greatest jump from one year to the next” of all the players he coached at Detroit, elevating his game so much that he was named the 2003 HL Player of the Year and was chosen in the second round of the ’03 NBA Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics, now known as the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Titan on which Watson made perhaps the second-largest impact is Bacari Alexander, a 1999 graduate of Detroit who now coaches under John Beilein at Watson’s former employer, the University of Michigan.

Following in his former head man’s footsteps, Alexander, the fifth-year big man coach for the Wolverines, has gained a reputation for being an expert recruiter, helping land 2014 Oklahoma City first-round pick Mitch McGary, who was the top forward recruit in the nation for the class of 2012 and the No. 2 overall prospect, according to both Scout.com and ESPN.com.

“He’s going to be a head coach one day,” Watson said of the 38-year-old Alexander, whom he’s known since kindergarten and whom he counseled at Detroit Southwestern.

However, he’s not too sure if Alexander’s first head coaching job will be at UDM.

“Detroit’s not a typical Division I school, as 6 Mile is not for every player,” Watson said.

Being a mid-major school in Detroit, UDM has faced recruiting challenges, which makes it all the more impressive that Watson was able to set the precedent for what it takes to win at Detroit, a sentiment shared by Phillips.

Leading UDM to a conference tournament championship in his very first year on the job and posting nine straight winning seasons from 1996 to 2004 helped Watson set that precedent, enabling him to make a seamless transition from high school coach at Southwestern – where he first coached Rose and won back-to-back Class A state championships in 1990 and 1991 – to head man at the collegiate level.

It’s why Watson, a member of the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Hall of Fame, was more than deserving of his call to the Titan Athletics Hall.

“I was honored, humbled and appreciative,” Watson said. “It was the recognition of a lot of hard work from me, my coaches and my players.”

 

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