“Just Believe in Yourself.”
The 2018-19 season brought forward a new set of challenges for forward Jason Watts with the Lambton Lions and the men’s basketball program. Not only did it mark the first season without the services of Branden Padgett, but it also saw Watts put in a situation that he had yet to experience in college.
He was forced to miss games due to injury.
“I missed five games in the second half of the year,” said Watts. “I had never been injured like that before.”
“Last year was really, really hard on me.”
Watts missed five games in the 2019 portion of the schedule due to an ankle injury, and the injury took its toll from a mental aspect. After working his way into a prominent role with the Lions, the injury led Watts to question whether or not the game was right for him, after all.
“I asked myself, “is it worth even trying to play anymore’, because I had invested so much time,” continued Watts. “I was on an all-Division I team in high school, so I didn’t get a chance there. I barely got one in JUCO, and it was like, ‘what’s the point?’
“I didn’t really start getting playing time until I got to Lambton College.”
The mental toll the injury took on Watts was bigger than it appeared on the surface. Constantly cheering on his teammates on the bench throughout the injury, you would have a hard time knowing the battles that Watts was tackling internally.
Watts missed four consecutive games from January 23rd through to February 3rd due to his ankle injury, and while he could have set out longer, Watts didn’t want to miss the team’s final home game of the season. Against the Fanshawe Falcons on February 5th, Watts was back on the bench and in uniform, waiting for his number to be called.
While he didn’t start, it wasn’t long before Watts made his way into the game. A packed house inside the Lambton College Athletics & Fitness Centre showered Watts with cheers of love and appreciation in his return to the court.
“I hadn’t practiced, I hadn’t ran a play or anything,” said Watts. “But the amount of support and energy that I got when I started playing meant everything.”
“I could’ve made a smarter choice for future reference, but I don’t regret anything. I try to give them 100% like they give me 100%.”
Instead of letting the injury get the best of him, he used his work ethic and determination to get the best of the injury. Having put in the work to get where he was, it was too much to give up. Over the summer, Watts went back to his hometown of Macomb, Michigan to get himself back on track.
“When I went home in April after finishing my fourth year, it was like, ‘you know what, I’ve got one more go’,” said Watts. “All summer long, I focused on basketball. I worked less, I focused on the game and really got back to it.”
“I know I had a lot of work to do, but I was going to attack it the same way as I did when I wasn’t playing and I wasn’t getting playing time.”
When the times got tough, Watts regularly looked back on the relationship that he has forged with Head Coach James Grant over his career with the Lions. He used their relationship as a source of motivation to keep going, and he says he owes a ton to Coach Grant for believing in him from the start.
“I’ve never had a coach believe in me and my abilities 100%, even when I don’t believe in myself,” said Watts. “Coach James has never lost faith in me at any point in my career.”
“He’s challenged me multiple times to get better, and that’s the first coach that I’ve had believe in me.”
Early in the 2018-19 season, the Lions were on the road to take on the Humber Hawks. Coach Grant showed the faith he had in Watts, along with his teammates, by writing four words on the whiteboard in the locker room.
“Just Believe In Yourself.”
“It was a confidence that I didn’t know he had,” said Watts on Grant’s words.
Using those words as motivation throughout the season, Watts was able to overcome his injury, helping guide the Lions to a spot at the 2019 OCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in the process. Not happy with their overall result, Watts has more motivation than ever heading into the 2019-20 campaign, his final year with the program.
After enduring last year’s trials and tribulations, both on and off the court, Watts has come back this season stronger than ever. He put in the work in the summer to better himself, both mentally and physically, and that will go a long way in helping the Lions achieve their goals this season.
Lambton College will serve as the host institution for the 2020 OCAA Men’s Basketball Championship,
“I’m all in with the school and the program,” said Watts. “I care about winning and doing it the right way, making sure that I’m doing my job and helping these guys get better.”
“I know what everyone has sacrificed to get here, and I’d be doing them a disservice if I didn’t give it everything I have.”
Even with the work that he’s put in over the last six months to get himself back on track after last year’s roller coaster ride, Watts admits that the challenges aren’t behind him. From a mental standpoint, he knows that the challenges are still there.
“I think mental change was the biggest challenge,” said Watts. “When you feel like you’re stuck at a certain point, you just want to give up.”
“I don’t have it in me because nobody in my family has ever given up on me.”
Watts also attributes a lot of his change from a mental aspect to both Women’s Basketball Head Coach Kendel Ross and Men's Basketball Assistant Coach Keith Concisom.
“Basketball wise, Kendel and Keith helped me a lot on things I needed to work on, both on the court and mentally.”
Heading into the 2019-20 season, Watts has a new outlook on the game. Having put in the work in the summer to get his body in shape, and using last year as more fuel to the fire, Watts is ready to leave it all on the floor. With a large contingent of supporters in the crowd on a nightly basis to cheer him on, Watts knows the impact he’s had on the school, and he wants people to know how grateful he is for all their love and support.
“Everybody around here is looking at me, saying you have such a positive attitude and what not, that means the world to me,” said Watts. “I owe it to them, as much as myself and my family, to be here and continue to do the little things and be this guy to look at.”
“Win, lose, or draw, I think that these last two years and this year have been some of the best I’ve ever had, and I’m really grateful for the school in general for the opportunities that I’ve had to be a part of different marketing initiatives and to meet new people.”
Gratitude is a two-way street. While Watts has expressed his gratitude for the love and support he’s received from the college community, it also goes the other way. Having a player step into the spotlight and embrace the community the way Watts has done over his two years means just as much to the community as it does to Watts.
When asked about what he means to the college, Watts was quick to show love for the rest of the team and the coaches.
“They could have chosen anybody, I’m not anybody special,” said Watts. “I’m not a guy who’s above anybody.”
“The amount of stuff we’ve done away from the basketball court, it’s bigger than basketball. The impact we’ve all had on kids and people in the community, we’ve got one more year to rock with that.”
As Watts enters his final year with the Lions and approaches graduation from the Sports and Recreation Administration program, he wants people to know that he’ll forever be part of the Lambton College community.
“Even after I graduate, I’ll probably come to every home game that I can because Coach Grant and this school gave me a chance to play basketball,” continued Watts. “I had plenty of injuries, I had nowhere to go, and he gave me a chance and never lost confidence in me.”
“He’s the source of me being here, and it’s been the best relationship that I’ve had with anyone outside of my family. I’ll be a fan for life.”
Things didn’t go as planned for Watts in 2018-19. An injury caused him to miss games for the first time in his career, and he was on the verge of quitting the game altogether.
The toll that the injury took on him from a mental standpoint was almost too much to overcome. Instead of throwing in the white towel, Watts looked to his teammates and coaches for motivation to keep on pushing, and he made his return to the court on February 5th. Everyone else had faith in Watts and his abilities, but he seemed to doubt himself and questioned whether the game was right for him or not.
Watts made changes, both on and off the court, to get himself back on the right track. This season, Watts and the Lions will look to turn heads across the CCAA landscape ahead of hosting the 2020 OCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
Little did he know it at the time, but the 2018-19 season for Watts would be defined by four simple words that Coach Grant wrote on the whiteboard from an early season road trip to Humber back in October.
Just Believe In Yourself.