By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Ocean City girls basketball coach Paul Baruffi can finally get some good nights of rest now that Kylee Watson’s career at rival Mainland Regional is over.
Even though the Red Raiders probably had more success than anyone when facing Watson and the Mustangs the past four years, it was still a challenge every time when facing the now two-time Glory Days Magazine Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“First off, people really need to try to appreciate having somebody that talented in our area, to be able to watch her for four years and see all the things she accomplished. Someone like that doesn’t come around too often,” Baruffi said. “As an opposing coach, I can tell you, there were a lot of long nights and practices trying to prepare to play against her. She does a lot of things very well — I’m glad I don’t have to face her ever again.”
So, how does an opposing coach prepare his team to face a University of Oregon recruit, a McDonald’s All-American, the leading scorer in her high school’s history, and the 2019-2020 New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year?
“You prepare your players the best you can. Sometimes it works better than others. But her game evolved as she went through her four years. She’s now a very good passer and I don’t think people saw that part of her game as much, but you definitely see it when you’re coaching against her. When you double- or triple-teamed her, she had the ability to get the ball to the right people,” Baruffi said. “And defensively, she’s very strong and versatile. There is so much to her. Sometimes you’d try to take one thing away and other things would open up because she recognized what was there — and not everybody can do that. It’s a tremendous thing to have somebody in the area like her. Plus, she’s very humble and a great teammate. You can see she really lifted up everyone else around her and she carried herself very well.”
Watson — the daughter of Cedar Creek football coach Tim Watson and Mainland girls basketball assistant coach Courtney Watson — may one day be considered the greatest girls basketball player in South Jersey history. She had major NCAA Division I offers before she even entered high school and is now part of one of the most highly touted recruiting classes at Oregon. Early in her prep career she earned a spot on the Team USA U16 team and competed in Brazil. Her list of accolades is long and her trophy shelf is overflowing.
“It’s impressive. A 2,000-point scorer, we haven’t seen that anywhere in awhile — I think (Lower Cape May’s) Lauren Holden was the last one,” said Mainland coach Scott Betson. “And 1,000 rebounds is something we’ve never had here, and the Gatorade Player of the Year kind of speaks for itself. I’ve said it a million times, she deserves all the accolades. She’s the hardest working kid out there, and I’m happy for her whenever she gets them.”
“The individual accomplishments are great and I thank all my teammates, coaches and everyone who has been a part of my life for all of that,” Watson said after a state playoff win over Absegami. “To be able to be blessed as the Gatorade Player of the Year is awesome.”
Watson led her team to Cape-Atlantic League and state championships during her junior year, and helped the Mustangs make it to four straight sectional finals. This year she averaged nearly 17 points per game, led the league in made free throws and blocked shots, was second in rebounding and third in assists, all while playing multiple positions, including point guard. But what she’ll be remembered most for is her ability to boost not only the play of her teammates, but their confidence as well.
“That’s the blessing about Kylee that most people don’t recognize unless you’ve watched her play a lot, is that for all the attention she gets she has no problem passing the ball. And, quite honestly, she has to a lot because she draws so much attention, and she knows that,” Betson said. “She really enjoys that part of the game. She thrives off making plays for other people, and that boosts everybody.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays