Monday, February 15, 2010

The Growing Pains of Christian Watford

Christian Watford is not yet the Second Coming of Alan Henderson, but let’s not rush things.

Watford is a talented freshman forward with a huge upside. If he was playing on a veteran team that could take off some of the pressure, who knows what he could be doing.

As anyone who has followed the Indiana Hoosiers knows, Watford doesn’t have that luxury. He bears a heavy inside burden made more suffocating by the inconsistent play of sophomore forward Tom Pritchard and IU’s overall struggles.

Still, the 6-9 Watford averages 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. He’s producing even as the Hoosiers bumble through their worst stretch of the season.

Oh. Did we mention Michigan State was coming to Bloomington Tuesday night?

But back to Watford. Coach Tom Crean is trying to fast forward his development, which means putting him in uncomfortable situations and making him work his way through them.

Take the end of last Saturday’s Wisconsin game. IU was long since beaten and Crean pulled all his starters except for Watford. He wanted Watford to get past the mental barrier that anchors him to freshman inconsistency when senior reliability is needed, the sooner the better.

“We needed Christian to play through because Christian needed to see that he’s not tired,” Crean said. “I wasn’t taking him out whether we were up 40 or down 40. He’s got to play through things. It’s such a mental game for a young guy. He’s capable. He’s got t play through is and learn to be a workhorse.

“There are so many things he’s capable of doing. It’s scoring. It’s facilitating. It’s being a playmaker. He has to become a complete player.”

So Crean plays him, pushes him, has long post-game talks with him. Trying to get a guy ready before his time is not fun for all parties concerned. But if the Hoosiers are to have any chance to win another game before next season, if they are to make a run at upsetting Michigan State, Watford will have to reach the Alan Henderson zone.

Is that fair? Not a chance, but remember, Watford was IU’s highest rated recruit last year. Kentucky coach John Calipari, among others, wanted him. Watford has ability. Someday, when ability matches experience, look out.

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