By Jason Avery
When Strong takes to the hardwood for the first time in the 2018-19 season, it will be a bit of a homecoming for their new coach.
Champ Watson, a longtime assistant to Al Flanigan at Little Rock Parkview also with several years of coaching collegiately, was recently tabbed as the Bulldogs’ head coach.
For Watson, there were three reasons why he wanted to take over at Strong.
“One, I’m only 20 minutes from home. I’m born and raised in Crossett,” Watson said. “Another one is I’ve known coach (Anthony) Avery for about 15 years. I’ve known him since I was at Arkansas-Monticello.
“The third was coach (Sirl) Wright. Even though we’re years apart, the bottom line is I know him. I know him well, and the fact that he became the head football coach over there, I know that there is someone there that I already knew, so it was a great fit. I’m also helping coach football, so I’m there to assist him as well.”
Although Watson was hired late in the summer, he said he wasn’t concerned about getting the chance to work with his team.
“Not at all because I really don’t do team camps anyway,” Watson said. “Most of the guys that I’ve been accustomed to over my career have always been with AAU teams. Before that AAU season really begins, we are able to work them out for maybe two or three weeks beforehand. Once their season starts, for me, I’m doing camps.”
For Watson, it’s the basics of the game that he loves to teach players.
“I love to teach,” Watson said. “I love to teach basic fundamentals. A lot of kids can play AAU all they want, but if they don’t have the basic fundamentals, they can only go so far in an athletic sense. You have to be able to create your space to get your shot off. Just basic fundamentals of the game of basketball. I do a lot of that and a little skill development.”
Before coaching at the high school level, Watson was an assistant coach for Mike Newell at Arkansas-Monticello, aiding the Boll Weevils to a Sweet 16 appearance in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. Watson then moved on to become the head coach at Texas College, an NAIA school.
Watson was Abundant Life’s head coach this past season before coming to Strong, but he has many fond memories from his tenure at Little Rock Parkview.
“I look forward to the challenge,” Watson said. “I work out kids the same way I learned from Mike Newell and Al Flanigan, and if that’s not good enough, I’m in the wrong sport. Coming up under the tutelage of Mike Newell and getting out on my own, then relocating back to Arkansas and being able to last 10 years to be a part of a program at Little Rock Parkview under the leadership of Al Flanigan is unprecedented. I had a good 10-year run there. Six years out of the 10, we were in the finals, four of them we won. We won six straight conference titles. It’s been fun.”
Watson said he has high aspirations for Strong’s future.
“I want to make them into a powerhouse,” Watson said. “That is my goal, and it will not happen overnight. I am a very patient guy, and I’m going to put in the time and effort. Like I always tell the guys, ‘The first step to change is listening.’ If they can adopt that and accept the culture that I’m trying to build here and the discipline to implement here, we’ll be fine.”
When asked what style of play he would like to play, Watson said he would need time to assess his personnel, but he said defense would be his top priority.
“First and foremost, being with Flanigan for so long, I am a defensive-minded coach,” Watson said. “That’s what wins championships. Jump shots may not fall one night, so defense will be my focus. The skillset as far as individuals, I have to see what I have. I’m the type of coach where I don’t make them fit a system, I tweak my system to fit them and their strengths. That’s how I’m looking at it at this point.”