Nutley’s Watson named to McDonald’s All-American team

Photo by Jim HAgue Nutley senior Blair Watson became the 11th girl from New Jersey to ever earn McDonald’s All-America status, when she was selected last week.
Photo by Jim Hague
Nutley senior Blair Watson became the 11th girl from New Jersey to ever earn
McDonald’s All-America status, when she was selected last week.

When Blair Watson enrolled at Nutley High School a little more than three years ago, she had no idea what the future held.

Watson was a basketball player with an extremely bright future. She was also a goalkeeper for the girls’ soccer team, but Watson abandoned those plans once it became evident that her basketball skills were vast and totally one of a kind.

Last week, Watson received an honor that shows just how unique of a talent she truly is.

Watson was named to the McDonald’s All-American High School Basketball team, one of only 24 girls nationwide to receive the honor.

Watson will get to play in the game at the United Center in Chicago on March 30, with game time at 6:30 p.m. Eastern and will be televised nationally by ESPN 3.

Watson becomes only the 11th player from New Jersey to be selected to play in the girls’ game and she’s the lone representative from the Garden State – boy or girl – this year.

Watson said that she didn’t know about the incredible honor until she watched the selection show on television last week.

“I was in complete shock,” Watson said. “I didn’t know if it should be a crying thing or a run around the house and scream thing. My brother, sister and mother were watching with me, so it became a screaming-type thing. It was insane. Mom (Nicole Colley) was in so much shock that she actually wasn’t believing it at first, like it was a dream.”

Nutley head coach Larry Mitschow said that he wasn’t overly shocked by the news.

“I wasn’t completely surprised, because I knew she was in the running and she was having a great season,” Mitschow said. “It’s a well deserved honor. She’s been here for four years and has helped to put Nutley on the map. I’m so excited for her.”

Last week, Nutley honored Watson’s accomplishment in fine fashion with a pre-game celebration.

Before the Maroon Raiders faced Weequahic last Tuesday, the Nutley school district had a special presentation for their All-American, complete with a plaque.

Watson has already signed her national letter of intent to attend the University of Maryland and play basketball for the Terrapins beginning next fall. Well, Maryland head coach Brenda Frese made the journey north to Nutley to be there as the district honored Watson for becoming an All- American.

“I definitely put in a lot of hard work to get to this point and I wanted to share it with all the people who helped me along the way,” Watson said. “I wanted to share this moment with everyone. It shows that you don’t have to go to one of the private schools or the bigger schools to get recognized. There’s nothing like being home in Nutley.”

After the presentation, Watson admitted that she was a little nervous to play the game against Weequahic.

“I had a bit of nervousness, because all of the eyes in the gym were on me,” Watson said.

Watson didn’t seem to show any jitters whatsoever, as she scored 30 of her 36 points in the first half of the Maroon Raiders’ 68-26 victory. Yes, Watson outscored the opponent on her own.

Watson also had 14 rebounds, eight assists, four blocks and four steals in the win over Weequahic. She also had 17 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in a win over Bloomfield Tech last week.

For her efforts, receiving All-American honors as well as performing well in two games, Watson has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Mitschow said that it had to have been tough for Watson to perform with everyone watching her, including her future coach.

“She knew she had to put on a good show and she did,” Mitschow said. “I told her to be aggressive with the spotlight on her. It was her show. She had to dazzle the crowd and her new coach a little.

Added Mitschow, “She was something else. For a girl to stay at home and have that kind of talent? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m such a fan of hers. I appreciate her. It’s just been a great ride.” It was a great ride last year, when Watson carried the Maroon Raiders to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III state championship as the No. 13 seed – the lowest seed to ever win a state sectional title.

This year, Watson has done more of the same – and more.

“She’s more of a leader this year because she has to be,” Mitschow said. “She’s more vocal and that’s come out of her skill level. She’s had to be that kind of person this year, because we have three freshmen and 10 sophomores. So Blair has had to be the leader.”

“I think my passing has increased,” Watson said. “I think I’m a better player. I think that over the summer, I was working a lot on my game. It was my last year of AAU (with the New Jersey Panthers), so I wanted to keep going as a player. Consistency is a big thing I strive for.”

Watson has certainly been consistent all year, as she has reached double figures in scoring and rebounding in each of the Maroon Raiders’ 12 games this year, averaging 24.1 points, 13.3 rebounds, six assists and 4.9 blocked shots per contest. Nutley’s overall record is 8-4.

“I’m still in shock that she’s an All-American, a McDonald’s All-American,” Mitschow said. “She’s going to Chicago to play with the 24 best players in the country and I’m going with her. It’s just a great thrill. As a coach, you never expect to coach someone of that talent.”

Mitschow said that Watson’s skill level has improved every year.

“Since she was a freshman, she got better in every aspect of the game,” Mitschow said. “It could have been very easy, a no-brainer to put her on the block because of her height, but we knew that it wasn’t going to be her game. She was all perimeter after that.”

Since her freshman year, Watson has connected on more than 200 shots from 3-point range.

“She hits four or five a game,” Mitschow said. “Her outside shot is now amazing. With her quickness and her height, you can’t defend her. She’s worked so hard in her training. You look at her stature and you can tell right away she’s an athlete. She’s a physical specimen, She’s a credit to her hard work and training in basketball all year round. Every game, we feel like we have a shot to win, because we have one of the best players in the country.”

And that was solidified last week when Watson officially received her honor as a McDonald’s All-American.

“I still can’t really believe it,” Watson said. “The future is always there and I look toward the future, but right now, I’m working hard with my team, my Nutley teammates, to win again this season. I want to be able to leave a little bit more of a mark and go out with a bang. It definitely means a lot for me to come from Nutley. It meant a lot to me that Coach Frese was here. She truly does care about me and shows I picked the right school.”

Just like she did four years ago.

“It’s coming to the end of the road and I know that,” Watson said. “It’s a little bit amazing that it has been four years. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Nutley has been great to me. I’m 100% proud of being from Nutley and being the first All-American. When I get to Chicago and step on the floor (of the United Center), I think then it will hit me. It’s all so unreal to me.”

Here are the other McDonald’s All-Americans from New Jersey. Some have gone on to become All-Stars in the WNBA. From first to last, they are Matee Ajavon (Shabazz), Crystal Langhorne (Willingboro) and Essence Carson (Paterson Eastside) in 2004; Crystal Goring (Peddie) in 2005; Laurin Mincy (University) and Haley Peters (Peddie) in 2010; Temi Fagberle (Blair Academy) and Briyona Canty (Trenton Catholic) in 2011; Brittney Sykes (University) and Michaela Maybrey (Manasquan) in 2012.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”