Anthony Watkins Enters 2020 NBA Draft Wanting To Add The Blend Of An Elite Athlete And An Advanced European Skill-Set

A great change during the summer is being able to take a break from club basketball and enjoy following the German men´s and youth national teams. As I was studying the roster of the German U-20 team in the summer of 2019, I noticed 2 names that I had never heard of before. One was Sam Griesel who was playing in the NCAA for North Dakota State and the other was Anthony Watkins who´s last team was an American high school that I couldn´t remember a few days later. I always find it interesting when a country finds these gems that also have other citizenships and to a point have lived in another place most of their lives. That has been the case with Griesel who was born and bred in Lincoln, Nebraska. His German connection is his dad who is German. Over the years there have already been other dual citizenship guys to play for Germany like current Alba Berlin guard Makai Mason who played at Yale and Baylor as well as former NBA player Shawn Bradley who had an American dad or even a Chris Kaman who was lucky to be able to play for Germany along side Dirk Nowitzki thanks to his great grandparents from his dad´s side being German. Anthony Watkins is the newest dual citizenship player that is looking to make a name for himself as a professional and for the German national team. He graduated from high school in 2019 and instead of going to college opted to go back to Germany and play his professional rookie season. Most guys probably would of gone to school and he didn´t have a spectacular first pro season playing for 2 organizations which was cut short because of the Coronavirus crisis. Just when he thought he had seen enough in this roller coaster season, he recently received a call from the NBA league office and soon after entered the 2020 NBA Draft which might have had some people saying Anthony Watkins who? Of course there is a reason why he has to enter the 2020 NBA Draft. Because he played his first professional game before Jan 1, 2020, he can only enter this year. NCAA underclassman have the advantage and bonus of being able to test the waters and pull their name out and wait another year and try again depending if they had a good work out or possibly got a promise from an NBA team. “My original plan was really just to test the waters and get feedback from as many NBA sources as possible to see where I stand, like some of my U-20 teammates did last year. However, after getting a call from Chris Ekstrand with the NBA, he explained my status to me. Now, I’m fully focused on this draft process, and enjoying the ride”, stressed Anthony Watkins. The guard has decided to enter the 2020 NBA Draft wanting to add the blend of an elite athlete and an advanced European skill-set

Anthony Watkins in action with Mccallie high school courtesy of the Chattanooga Times Free Press

            Watkins was born on October 31st, 2000 in Heidelberg, Germany. His father Dewayne is American and played professionally in Germany for 12 years while his mother is of German origin. They moved to the States when he was only 2 years old and have lived there since. But his parents didn´t allow him to only be brought up with the American culture, bút also allowed him to absorb the German culture by going to Germany during the summers and visit his relatives. I personally would of thought that the kid is infected with that total American identity, but that isn´t the case. He is very proud of his German heritage and doesn´t feel more like an American than a German. “Funnily, this is a question I’ve never been asked. German was my first language and so the German culture language has been something that has always been a part of my life; my fluency in German is something I take a lot of pride in. On account of that, there’s really no imbalance in which nationality I favor. Both play an equal role in my identity, and I could never say that I feel more of either. Me being able to attend school (Grundschule and Gymnasium) in the summers also played a huge role in this balance. I’ve made lifelong friends in Germany and the rise of the social media age has made it easier every year for us to stay in contact. My German citizenship is something I will forever be proud of, and it’s just as valuable to me as my American citizenship”, stressed Anthony Watkins. He got his first real growth as a basketball player at McCallie High School, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There were 3 main reasons that he could develop his game there as he established his potent defensive game, was provided with top notch conditioning and played every weekend against top talent and guys who would land in the NBA.” McCallie was definitely a great experience for me to grow on the defensive end. When I came in I had mainly been playing zone defenses and understood little about man-to-man principles. Playing under two former Division I coaches, one being a former Division I head coach and the other being a former Division I assistant coach, really gave me an idea of the intensity, IQ, and awareness needed to play defense at the next level, whether that be college basketball or professionally. Also, McCallie provided me with a top-of-the-line strength and conditioning program. Coach Richard Henderson taught me everything I needed to know about how to effectively train the human body, and also helped to further instill the importance of a strong work ethic in me at a very young age. Last but not least, at McCallie we played against a lot of high-level competition, which is not the norm for most high schools. Year in and year out, I was able to face off against and see high-level players, who would end up in the NBA one day. It really put into perspective what high-level talent really looks like, rather than just having to judge based off of YouTube highlights. For example, even though I wasn’t able to play against guys like Jaren Jackson Jr., Anthony Edwards, and James Wiseman, I was able to see them live and gauge their talent for myself”, added Anthony Watkins. He played against some of the best of the best including four NBA first round picks with Cavs guard Darius Garland, Thunders guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Spurs guard Keldon Johnson and Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander Walker. He would of never of had the chance to witness competition like this in the German youth league NBBL and cherishes having had the opportunity to test his skill set against theirs. “I think the biggest thing that I gained from playing against such intense competition was an understanding of how my athleticism was able to compare to theirs. A lot of the time, if we aren’t able to see players like that live, or be able to face off against them, it’s easy to begin to believe that they’re in a completely different stratosphere athletically. But, playing against them, I was able to see that my speed, agility, and athleticism were all comparable to theirs, and that most definitely further inspired me to continue working toward my dreams. I definitely felt at home, and welcomed the competition. That’s the main reason I play the game, to play against high-level guys and see how I stack up in comparison. That’s why I spend all those hours in the gym and in the weight room. That’s where my love for the game really comes out. I’d say the biggest challenge for me was playing against Shai Gilgeous Alexander, mostly because it was my freshman year, and, as I said before, my knowledge of the defensive end of the ball was very limited at that time. I ended up being matched up with him for a good part of the game and that experience really pushed me to become the defender that I am today. Without having that experience early on, I don’t think I would’ve ended up being selected as an all-region player my senior year”, warned Anthony Watkins.

            He didn´t have to think long about if he wanted to take the college route or head back to Germany to turn professional. He didn´t want to go to college because he didn´t feel like he could develop there as well as he would if he was able to turn professional in Germany. But before he began his professional career in Germany in August, he spent time with the German national U-20 squad preparing for the 2019 European Championships. This was a very talented team and they didn´t disappoint bringing home the Bronze from Tel Aviv. Even if the 19 year old 194cm point guard wasn´t part of the 13 man roster, just being there in camp and being able to compete against the best young German players at his age was worthwhile. “The experience with the national team was the perfect start for my professional career. From the jump, I was in the same gym with the top prospects in Germany, and was able to get a feel for what, not only German teams valued in young players, but also what skills were necessary to play the European game. I had already gotten a taste of it the year before, being invited to train with the U-18 national team in the summer of 2018, and was extremely excited to be back for round two. I think the most valuable part of that entire experience was getting feedback from such high-level coaches, like, Harald Stein, Alan Ibrahimagic, Henrik Rödl, and Mario Dugandzic. The words of wisdom and encouragement they were able to give me during those practices and games were extremely valuable for me to finish up my off-season training and to start my professional career off strong. I got along with all the guys really well, really had no issues. It was just like stepping into my first class at the Gymnasium in Neckargemünd. Maybe even easier actually, since we all had the same passion for the game of basketball, and for representing our country”, expressed Anthony Watkins. He had some extreme tough competition at the guard position. Facing off against the best German point guards like Jonas Mattisseck, Joshua Obiesie, Nils Hassfuerter and Bjarne Kraushaar was a challenge every single day. They all have had professional experience.  He feels extremely blessed that he was able to share the court with them and showcase the skills that he had learned at the high school level and believes that after a season in Germany would do very well against them if he met them on a court again. “The experience with the U-20 national team marked the official beginning of my transition to the point guard position for me. After training with the U-18 team the summer before, I had started watching film and working in the gym to improve my point guard skills. When I got to the high school season, however, I did not have the opportunity to collect the valuable game experience from the point guard position that I needed. I saw myself playing on the wing as an off-guard oftentimes, and also played a lot at the forward position. This is where my instinct for the rebounding aspect of the game really grew. Being accustomed to having to perform well on the boards is something that never left me. Now, it’s just a habit for me to crash the glass, whether that be on the offensive end or the defensive end. Competing against high-level young European guards like these four was perfect for me to start the transition. Being seen as a point guard by the coaches in practice helped jumpstart the process for me even more. Being matched up with young guys who have played the point guard position for many years at a high level showed me the discrepancies between my skills and their skills, and let me know what things I need to focus on. For instance, I previously saw ball screens primarily as a means for me to score the ball. However, after learning the playbook of the national team and guarding those guys day in and day out in practice, I saw that there was much more to the pick-and-roll, and immediately knew I had to expand my knowledge and feel for that part of the game. Also, as I mentioned before, at that point I had really no experience picking up a ball handler full-court. I knew in my mind that I had all the tools to make those guys uncomfortable, but my lack of understanding of angles and technique hindered my confidence in those situations. If I were to match up with those guys now, I would be able to apply way more pressure on the defensive end, and be able to run a team in a similar fashion to them”, warned Anthony Watkins.

            Watkin´s biggest basketball influence isn´t a big surprise as it is Dirk Nowitski. His dad had a few stories to tell since he played against him in Germany in the 90´s when the future Dallas Mavericks legend was a young prospect in Germany. When he thinks about who his game most resembles, he mentions the ex Utah Jazz player Deron Williams and current Boston Celtic Marcus Smart. Watkins is big and strong and has speed and athleticism which Williams had and compares himself to Smart in terms of his defensive ability. Since his experience with the German national U-20 team and his rookie season in Germany, his main focus is being that playmaker that can lead a team to success. “I believe I definitely have the size and strength to be a combo guard, however, my focus is fully on fulfilling my potential as a point guard. I feel my skill-set is very well-rounded. In high school, a lot of my shots came from beyond the arc, and I shot a high percentage on those looks. When I made the jump to the professional game, I noticed I was able to attack the basket much easier with the increased floor spacing. Looking back at the past season, however, my game became too heavily centered around getting to the basket, and I neglected my ability as a shooter far too often. So, now, with the off-season upon us, my full focus is on continuing to improve my advanced point guard reads and skills, and finding a balance of attacking the basket and being a threat from the perimeter at the same time”, added Anthony Watkins. It doesn´t matter who you talk to, but one of Watkin´s biggest assets is something that runs in the family. And with him it is an added asset as it is a mother/Father combination of pure work ethic. “Growing up with a former professional basketball player in your house is definitely an advantage when it comes to work ethic. I think the best part of my development as a player was that my dad left it up to me, if I wanted to be a better player. He’d of course let me know what steps were necessary for me to improve, but after that he’d leave it up to me to actually do it. This small aspect was huge for me because I was able to own the game for myself. Of course, my dad wasn’t the only one who helped to shape my work ethic. My mom also played a major role in that. One time in my life stands out in particular when it comes to work ethic, where both my parents were involved. The winter of my seventh grade year, I was going through my first season on the varsity team, and was playing against mostly older guys. That meant my game had to take the next step, and I was spending a lot more time in the gym outside of practice, because of that. At the same time, however, I had won the school spelling bee, and was wanting to do my best in that arena as well. So, my typical day back then would look something like this: do cardio, go to school, go to basketball practice, do some extra work after basketball practice, eat, do homework, and, finally, spend about an hour a day drilling spelling bee words by their countries of origin until I knew them like the back of my hand. All of that work ended up paying off with me placing third in the regional spelling bee (a few words away from nationals), and being honored with all-league and all-tournament selections at the end of the basketball season. This experience really put into perspective how vital my work ethic is to my overall success, and I could’ve never realized it without both of my parents who instilled this strive for excellence and ability to persevere. However, at the end of the day, I don’t see what I do as work. I’m just doing what I love to do day in day out, enjoying the process of fulfilling my potential as a basketball player, and anything else I decide to set my mind to”, stressed Anthony Watkins.

Anthony Watkins in action with German Pro B team Basketball Lowen Erfurt courtesy of Drehse

He began the season in Erfurt playing for the Lowen in the Pro B league(3rd division) and finished with the Regionalliga team Giessen Pointers(4th division). Nine months later, he didn´t see himself making the wrong decision. “I think taking the jump and playing professionally was the exact thing I needed to take the next step in my game. It exposed every part of my game that I needed to work on and allowed me to leave no stone unturned in my training process. For example, when I arrived in Erfurt, I wasn’t really comfortable picking up full-court and pressuring a ball handler over 94 feet. However, every practice, Coach Florian Gut drilled a dog’s defensive mentality inside of us. We often scrimmaged two or even two and a half hours and the entire time I’d be guarding the starting point guard full-court. That was tremendous for me, not only to develop as a defender, but to understand what level of conditioning was required to play at the next level. In Giessen, I was able to use that heightened level of conditioning and defensive intensity to my advantage. With the increase in minutes, I saw more opportunities to get out in transition, and display that strength. I was also able to showcase that dog’s mentality on the other end of the floor, routinely being matched up with other teams’ biggest offensive weapon on the perimeter, and being tasked with making it difficult on him every possession”, expressed Anthony Watkins. He played only 10 games with Pro B team Lowen averaging 8 minutes and 3,6ppg. Not the greatest stats, but then again there was a reason for the less minutes. “Of course, I would’ve loved to play more minutes, but what I found really encouraging was my ability to be effective in the minutes that I played. It was surprising to me how efficient I was from the guard spot against grown men, and how consistently I was able to make the most of my minutes. It’s typical for young players to receive limited minutes at the professional level, but what made my situation unique was the fact that, even though I’m a German, who was born in Germany, who speaks German fluently, I was not considered a German (local) player in the Pro B league. In the BBL and Pro A, my status would be as a German on account of my German passport, but in the Pro B, which has different rules, I was labeled as a European import player, which limited the amount of time I could be on the court (teams can only have two import players on the floor at one time and must divide 80 total minutes among all of their imports). Knowing this definitely made it easier for me to deal with not playing a large amount of minutes, even though I felt like I could definitely do more for the team. But Erfurt’s major strength was the intense practices, and that makes me taking less minutes 100% worth it”, commented Anthony Watkins.

Anthony Watkins in action with German Regionalliga team Giessen Pointers in 2020 courtesy of Harald Friedrick

Even if he hung around for only 5 months in Erfurt before heading to Giessen, he has no ill-feelings towards the organization and saw many positives from the experience. “It was the perfect situation for me to start my career off. I had access to the gym virtually whenever I needed it, and the program was tailored to developing young players. We had appointed individual practice hours, along with CrossFit workouts going on during the season. These things were a major draw for a guy like me who wouldn’t rather be anywhere else than in the gym getting better at his craft. Another major plus for me was being able to play in front of such an incredible fan base at my first stop in my professional career. We almost always had fans traveling to away games bringing drums to make noise and cheer us on, even though the team was struggling. The kids from the city were also naturally drawn to me, and still keep tabs on me to this day. I think that’s just a testament to the fan base the Loewen organization has been able to build, and it’s what hurt me the most every time we lost. They deserved better, and I’m confident it will get better in the future. The high school I went to was an elite academic institution, so for a lot of our home games there weren’t many student supporters, as they were all busy studying. Playing in front of those fans in Erfurt really put into perspective how vital the fan base is in the professional game, and this understanding and appreciation have motivated me to perform for them every time I get the chance”, warned Anthony Watkins. Even if his dad wasn´t around, he had that special father figure with 39 year old forward Robert Franklin who was close to double double stats with 10/9. “The funny thing about that is Rob Franklin is the exact same age as my mom. That was really a sort of culture shock for me, given the fact that I was playing with a bunch of 15 to 18-year-olds the year previous. Robert is a guy who leads with his heart and passion for the game. Every night, he left his heart on the floor, and that was very admirable. Even though he was the oldest guy on the team by far, every night he put on his hard hat and took on the task of guarding the strongest big man and out-rebounded him almost every time. Given that my main focus at the time was, and still is, becoming a point guard, the amount of things I was able to ask Rob about was limited. But, I was still able to gain some valuable things from him by just watching him play the game. Over the course of my time there, I was able to form a nucleus with Robert Merz and Alhassan Barrie. We were all new guys coming in and new to the professional game. Being able to talk with those guys and talk about the adjustments we were all making at the time definitely made the transition way easier”, said Anthony Watkins.

He finished the 2019-2020 season with the Giessen Pointers averaging 10.0ppg, 4.1rpg, 1.1apg, FGP: 53.3%, 3PT: 66.7%, FT: 58.8%. He needed no adjustment period in Giessen as he hit TV Langen for 22 points in his first game. He also could play more minutes as there were only 2 import players. “The major difference in Giessen was that there was no restriction on how many minutes I could legally play in a game, given the fact that I, along with former Stony Brook forward Tyrell Sturdivant, was one of the only two import players on the team. The increase in minutes gave me the opportunity and the confidence to showcase my ability to get to the basket in transition and in a half court setting. I was also given the role of defensive stopper and embraced the challenge of guarding the other team’s best outside scorer almost every night”, stressed Anthony Watkins. He was fortunate to have two very strong point guard on his team with young Lukas Mayer and veteran Falko Thelig who has had BBL experience in the past. “Being able to guard a great scorer like Lucas in practice definitely helped me to further embrace the role of defensive stopper. Lucas is great at moving without the ball, so you can’t fall asleep when you’re guarding him. Falko’s craftiness caused me to always stay on my p’s and my q’s when guarding him. Another challenge that guarding him presented, was not being sure when he was looking to pass or to score. He always did a great job of attacking first to score, but then at the last second making a dish to a teammate. I learned a lot from competing against him and have added that skill to my game as well”, added Anthony Watkins. Things were going well with the Giessen Pointers, but then the Coronavirus shut everything down. He would have loved to have finished the season, but took some positives form the experience including being able to jump back quickly from the Lowen experience. “It was a great lesson in professionalism for me. I had to adapt to a new city, move into a new place, gel with new teammates, and learn a new system in a short amount of time. I also had to be open to hitting the refresh button and understanding that this was a new situation. No longer were my minutes limited and I was seen as a guy who is expected to contribute every single night. Being that guy is a responsibility I enjoy and is one of the major motivations behind all of the work I put in. My goal is to be the player whose impact is undeniable every time he steps on the floor”, warned Anthony Watkins.

            Now it´s April 2020 and Anthony Watkins is back at home in North Georgia with his parents. The Coronavirus has shut down gym time and it hasn´t been an easy time adjusting to having to do work outs differently, but the young German has found ways to be creative in keeping his body in shape and keeping buy with other hobbies. “Obviously, my training during this time has been rather simple. As far as conditioning is concerned, I’ve been training outside with an altitude mask for my cardio, for strength I’ve been doing a lot of push-ups and core work, and the crown jewel of my training during this stay-at-home phase has been working with the Vertimax machine at home in my garage. I was really happy with where I was athletically and conditioning-wise this season and that is something I’m doing my very best to build on, despite this difficult time. Along with all those things, I’ve been returning to my roots and working on my on-the-court skills on an outdoor basket in my neighborhood”, expressed Anthony Watkins. The German has many other interests away from basketball and has found extra time to pursue them more. He has started a podcast called The Fresh Squeeze Podcast” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhyI_A5QwvM that he began with a high school teammate and also recently debuted a new series called Film School (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4Xa373REdY), where he breaks down some of his game film from this past season. “Some fans of the podcast had asked me to do it, and I was honestly hesitant at first, since I am a young guy and I myself have much to learn. But I saw some other people with much less basketball experience breaking the game down and figured, even if it doesn’t draw a large audience, it will definitely help me to go even more in depth on my game film during this time”, said Anthony Watkins. His rookie season wasn´t the easiest for him and with Corona and added obstacle got in the way, but he just tries to take the positives. “I wouldn’t personally describe this past season as tough for me. Of course, it was a roller coaster ride, but I learned so much about what it means to be a professional during this year. Every step along the way has had its own purpose in my journey and seeing that allows me to embrace the challenges this season presented, just as well as I have embraced the highlights. Corona was a very unexpected challenge and has definitely forced me to be creative with my training, but I think it’s also been a great opportunity to spend time with my family and watch a lot more game film than usual”, stated Anthony Watkins. His off the court interests don´t end there as he is working on a book as well. “Me being creative and stimulating that part of my mind is a major help for me on the basketball court as well. It helps me to visualize different scenarios while I’m training and when I’m preparing for a game. This time has been a tremendous opportunity for me to continue working on my novel and it’s something I’m really excited about. It has been a great outlet for my creativity. As it is still a work in progress, I don’t want to give too many details on it, but I will say this: there may be an occasional basketball in it (I know that might be quite shocking). The mental aspect of the game has been something I’ve honed in on this entire season. I’ve always had people tell me the game was 90% mental, but I don’t think you can really understand what that means until you’ve played the game at a high level. Once you’ve mastered the mental game, it becomes simple. When I’m working on my mental game, I’m doing it to simplify the game. In high school, I created the Einfach. Brand, “Einfach” translating to “simple,” initially as a reminder to myself to not overthink things, to keep it “Einfach.” I had no plans of selling any merchandise and assumed nobody would want to wear my personal mantra, since it was in German. However, when I was wearing the stuff around, people asked me what it meant and where they could get a hoodie/shirt like mine. With that, https://www.einfachbrand.com/ was born. I always try to find the silver lining in situations like the one we find ourselves in today, and further exploring these creative outlets has definitely been one for me”, added Anthony Watkins.

            One thing that he is really looking forward to now is the 2020 NBA Draft Process and what kinds of new things he will encounter. The only problem is that the unexpected out break of the Coronavirus has put a lot of question marks concerning how world basketball will operate in the next months. He can´t go crazy now not knowing what will happen, but instead continue to work on his game. “Right now, I’m just maximizing this time and trying to become the best basketball player I can be. I’ve never been through the draft process, and based on what I heard from Mr. Ekstrand, nobody really knows what the future holds concerning the draft. Therefore, I can’t concern myself too much with that at this point. Like I said before, I’m just enjoying the process of continuing to get better every day, and hopefully, once we can safely return to playing basketball, we’ll have a better idea of what the plan of attack will be”, warned Anthony Watkins. He keeps an open mind and sees the whole picture concerning the advantage of having played high school in the States concerning the very athletic players he battled, but then again knows that the European players have a totally different basketball upbringing that a Jalen Green who is pinned to be the #1 pick wasn´t exposed to. “Of course being in an elite strength and conditioning program in the United States helped me to tailor my body and athletic skill-set toward the American game, which I think is one of my biggest strengths as a prospect. But on the other hand, the European prospects that I’ve seen all have an advanced skill-set that I wasn’t taught in the United States. They have their advantages, and I have mine. My goal is continue to become the blend of an elite athlete and a player who incorporates that advanced European skill-set in his game. Being exposed to those advanced skills was another major incentive for me to make the leap to the professional game in Europe”, stressed Anthony Watkins. There will be those haters in Germany wondering why a guy that played in the Regionalliga would declare for the NBA draft, but then again don´t mention that to ex Dragons Rhondorf guard Curtis Hollis who also declared for the NBA Draft. You would think that Watkins would do it merely for exposure, but no he has another reason for doing it. “The thought of using this process to bring attention to myself never even crossed my mind, honestly. As I said before, I’m just trying to see where I stand. It’s difficult for me to say what my chances are, given the fact that I haven’t gotten any feedback from any of the NBA teams yet. That being said, I obviously understand that, at this point, I’m a very unknown prospect. For me, this process is going to show me a lot about my game, and how I can improve as a young player. The increased attention towards my talent might be a byproduct of it, but this process for me has nothing to do with publicity”, warned Anthony Watkins. Where he will play next season is unknown at the moment, but he won´t be leaning in the direction of one place but have a very open mind. “At the end of the day, I’m a 19-year-old. At this point in my career, I’m concentrating on developing my game. I’m looking for the best opportunity to become the best basketball player I can be. If that’s in the G-League, then that’s the route I’ll take. If that’s with another team in Europe, then that’s where I’ll be. If I’m blessed enough to be able to develop in the NBA, then of course, that’s the route I’ll be taking”, warned Anthony Watkins. One thing is for sure, if the 19 year old ever gets bored with basketball or just gets fed up with it ,he definitely will have many other routes to go, because this cosmopolitan has many interests and talents that will take him places even off the court

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s