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Warrior mentality pays

C.J. Watson originally planned to spend this weekend in New Orleans as part of Saturday’s D-League All-Star Game. But he got a better offer.

The former Bishop Gorman High School standout, who went undrafted in 2006 out of Tennessee, landed a 10-day contract last month with the Golden State Warriors, who were looking for a backup for point guard Baron Davis.

Watson’s play so impressed coach Don Nelson that the Warriors signed him for the rest of the season.

"I never lost faith," Watson said this week from the Bay Area. "I knew I was good enough. I kept pushing and fighting and never kept my head down."

He looked good the last two summers with the San Antonio Spurs but, caught in a numbers game, failed to make the team each fall. Watson bounced around Europe in 2006 and 2007, playing in Greece and Italy, without much success and did not enjoy being overseas.

Watson’s agent, Mike Higgins, suggested he stay home and play in the NBA Development League after his second stint with San Antonio. The D-League had helped another of Higgins’ clients, former UNLV forward Louis Amundson, make it to the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers.

"I just wanted to stay over here. Mike thought it might lead to more opportunities," Watson said.

The 6-foot-2-inch guard made the Rio Grande Valley Vipers’ roster and was an instant success, averaging 26.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists.

NBA teams started to take notice, including the Warriors and vice president of basketball operations Chris Mullin.

"We were in a position where we needed another point guard, and C.J. certainly earned the opportunity based on his play in the D-League," Mullin said. "I think the young man has a future in this league if he continues to work hard and continues to expand his game. … He’s been a nice addition to our team."

Nelson said: "He understands the game and plays under control, which is not typical of most young players. … He’s done a better-than-expected job of providing a little rest to our big-minute players like Baron and Monta (Ellis)."

Watson said he understands his role with the Warriors and that he’s comfortable coming off the bench.

"I know I need to be ready all the time," he said. "I try to make the right play and rely on my instincts."

Nelson told him to be himself, Watson said, and for the first time since playing at Gorman, he feels as though he has total freedom on the court.

"I never worry about making a mistake," Watson said. "I know Coach Nelson has complete confidence in me."

Watson has averaged 4.7 points and 1.6 assists in 14.7 minutes in 12 games with Golden State.

Because he’s on an NBA roster, Watson is ineligible to play in the D-League All-Star Game on Saturday. But he wouldn’t trade his experience in the NBA for anything.

"It’s everything I dreamed it would be," Watson said. "The first night, we’re playing Portland and you hear the crowd yelling. But you really can’t enjoy the moment because things are happening so fast. But I was able to take it in a little, and it felt great to finally make it."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2913.

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