Beyond medical exams, pre-game drills and the eye test, there is one nearly sure-fire indication of whether an athlete dealing with injury is going to play or stay on the bench.
“My parents were like, ‘Should we come over (to Seattle)?’ ” Gonzaga freshman forward Anton Watson said. “They were making sure I was playing.”
Watson returned for limited duty in the Zags’ 83-76 road win over Washington on Sunday with mom and dad in the stands, roughly a week and a half after he suffered a nasty sprained ankle against Southern Miss in the Bahamas.
The Gonzaga Prep product proved to be a swift healer again. Watson previously played with stitches near his eye and after a shoulder subluxation. He didn’t suit up last Wednesday against Texas Southern and sported a pronounced limp as he tossed passes to teammates in warm-ups.
“We were playing it day by day and seeing how I felt every day,” Watson said. “I felt ready (Sunday). I’m definitely moving a lot better than I was a couple days ago. It’s just good progress. It was a bad sprain, but I’ve been doing rehab every day.”
Watson finished with two assists and a steal in nine minutes.
“He hasn’t practiced since the first day of the Bahamas,” coach Mark Few said. “He literally gutted it out and gave us extra minutes and more bodies in there dealing with all the foul trouble. He’s a tough kid, a really, really tough kid, and he wanted to play.”
Watson’s return meant the renewal of his battles against Husky freshman standout Jaden McDaniels. Watson and Gonzaga Prep defeated McDaniels and Federal Way in last year’s 4A tournament semifinals en route to winning the state championship. The Bullpups edged Federal Way 54-52 in the state title game two years ago, capping Gonzaga Prep’s unbeaten season.
“I definitely wanted to get back for this game and as soon as possible to help my team out.” Watson said. “I played against Jaden the last few years and against his older brother (Jalen) when I was a freshman. I’ve been playing the McDaniels forever, it feels like.
“I know (Jaden), he’s cool. You can feel the tension and we definitely go at it every time we play. That’s respect to him.”
Jaden, a projected lottery pick in several mock drafts, scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Jalen, who played at San Diego State, was drafted in the second round by Charlotte. He’s played in one NBA game and 12 G League games this season.
Watson visited with former Bullpups teammate Devin Culp, a redshirt freshman tight end on Washington’s football team, after the game.
Tough guys, part II and III: Senior guard Ryan Woolridge had a big stat line with 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals. He played a team-high 39 minutes. Woolridge, who has been battling soreness in his surgically repaired knee, looked to be full speed, but said afterward he’s not quite there yet.
“I feel like I’m still coming along,” Woolridge said. “I’m just trying to go out and do what I can and whatever it takes to get the win.”
Senior guard Admon Gilder, who has also been battling a knee issue, was limited to a season-low 10 minutes but chipped in four points and a rebound.
Woolridge and Gilder have played in all 11 games.
Happy homecoming: Junior forward Corey Kispert has had two chances to return to his old stamping grounds. Both ended in wins over rival Washington at Alaska Airlines Arena, roughly 10 miles away from King’s High, where Kispert was a four-year standout.
Sunday was much more enjoyable for Kispert, even though the outcome was closer than GU’s 97-70 beatdown of the Huskies two seasons ago. Kispert was just coming off a sprained ankle and was limited to 13 minutes while scoring three points in the December 2017 contest.
Kispert contributed 15 points, two 3-pointers, four rebounds, one steal and zero turnovers in 36 minutes in Sunday’s victory.
“For me, coming here every time is special,” Kispert said. “I got to go home (Saturday night) and visit my family. Having a bunch of family and friends in the crowd supporting me from all parts of Seattle was great.
“I didn’t have a great game the last time I was here coming off an ankle injury, so it felt good to play well and also get the win. The place was rocking. It was one of the most fun games I’ve played in.”
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