Nutley’s Watson gets McDonald’s All-American sendoff


Blair Watson is headed to the McDonald’s High School All-American basketball game, traveling to Chicago’s United Center this week to participate in the contest with the top 24 girls’ high school basketball players in the entire nation.

But before the 6-foot-1 Nutley High School senior got on a plane and traveled to the Windy City to become only the ninth player in New Jersey history to earn the distinction of a McDonald’s All-American, Watson had to enjoy a celebration with her family, friends, teammates and coaches.

And the fitting place to hold such a party?

McDonald’s, of course. Where else?

That’s right. Last Wednesday, Watson went to the McDonald’s at the Belleville/Bloomfield border to have a grand old send-off, complete with Big Macs and balloons, happiness and hamburgers, proclamations and politicians, smiles and shakes.

According to Nicole Turano, who works for Marino, the public relations firm that represents McDonald’s, each of the honorees got the chance to have a party courtesy of McDonald’s.

“It’s one of the fun things we’re able to do,” Turano said. “We wanted to have it somewhere close to home.”

Needless to say, Watson wasn’t going to complain. After all, it was a party in her honor, complete with a congratulatory cake.

It was enough to bring out Joseph DiVincenzo, the Essex County Executive, and Al Petracco, the mayor of Nutley, both of whom presented special proclamations to Watson, who a day earlier was named the New Jersey Girls’ High School Basketball Player of the Year by the Newark Star-Ledger, and North Jersey Advance Media.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” Watson said. “Why not have it here? It makes sense.”

Watson, who averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds per game this season for the Maroon Raiders, reached the 2,000-point plateau toward the end of the season and leaves her mark as the all-time leading scorer, both for boys and girls, in Nutley history.

“At this point, you really can’t describe all of this,” Watson said. “I’m just very grateful. I’m ecstatic.”

Watson, who has already signed her national letter of intent to play at the University of Maryland in the fall, said that she was looking forward to playing with future teammates Kayla Charles (Maryland) and Destiny Slocum (Idaho) during the week of the All-Star game.

Charles will be her teammate on the East squad, while Slocum will play against the others for the West squad.

“No matter what, we’re teammates in the end,” said Watson, who led the Maroon Raiders to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III state sectional championship last year. “It’s all good.”

Watson was the lone player selected for the All-Star Game from New Jersey and the entire Tri- State area.

Watson said that she has had some time to look back and appreciate what she was able to achieve during her career at Nutley.

“I’m pleased with what I was able to accomplish,” Watson said. “It’s all great. I never dreamed it could all happen. No one can ever take away our state championship. Some days, I think to myself and say, ‘Did I really live up to all of that?’”

Nutley head girls’ basketball coach Larry Mitschow certainly appreciated Watson _ and he gets to accompany Watson to Chicago, along with Nutley athletic director Joe Piro and Watson’s family entourage of her mother, sister, brother, grandmother, cousin and uncle.

“It says a lot that they’re all coming,” Watson said.

“I think this was great,” Mitschow said. “It’s very original. It’s a different experience for Blair and for all of us. Having the mayor and county executive come out and honor her. I don’t think anyone could ask for more. Blair’s one of the best players in the United States. She’s a McDonald’s All-American. It’s all definitely well deserved. It’s not too much of a surprise that she’s an All-American, but this was a surprise.”

Mitschow said that Watson is perhaps one of the most humble people he’s ever known.

“She’s not one for attention,” Mitschow said. “This is not what she’s all about. It’s never about her own personal accomplishments. She always puts her teammates first. She gives everyone else credit for what she’s done.”

Watson’s teammate at Nutley, freshman Rebecca Granata, has always looked up to Watson.

“I think we all wanted to be like Blair,” Granata said. “It’s an honor that I got to play with her. You attend something like this and it makes you want to be like her. There’s excitement in the air that none of us ever felt before. I’m proud of her. She works hard. She’s very unselfish. She’s a very inspiring type of player. I really think she’s a one of a kind.”

Mitschow said that he wanted to see how his prized pupil matched up with the other All-Americans.

“I’m excited about that more than anything,” Mitschow said. “I want to see how she plays against the other top players in the country. To see that level of competition is incredible.”

Mitschow was asked if he could ever dream of having a player of Watson’s talent ever again.

“Oh, my God,” Mitschow said. “I just hope to compete and challenge next year. To have a kid like Blair walk into the gym four years ago was a wonderful blessing. Where do I go from here? She’s been a great role model for the rest of the program.”

Watson was asked about her emotions before she boarded the plane to Chicago.

“I’m a little excited and a little nervous,” Watson said. “It’s a little mix of both. I’m going to sit on the plane and be nervous more than anything.”

Watson will also undergo surgery on her shoulder in a few weeks. She injured the shoulder during the season and played through the pain.

“It’s a slight tear in my labrum,” Watson explained. “Doctors say that there’s a six month recovery time. I think it’s a blessing in disguise that I can get this taken care of now before I go to school. I’ll get it taken care of and then I can just go play.”

So being named a McDonald’s All-American, the ninth ever to hail from New Jersey, with legendary WNBA players like Matee Ajavon, Essence Carson and Alana Beard, was the crowning moment in Blair Watson’s career at Nutley.

“It’s a fitting way to end it,” Watson said. “In a McDonald’s no less.”

And how did Watson officially end the day? With a Barbie Happy Meal and a hot fudge sundae topped with peanuts, of course.

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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.”