Few young basketball players get the opportunity to learn from a former No. 1 NBA Draft pick.
Such was the good fortune of Boise State junior Ryan Watkins, who learned the ropes from his grandfather, Bill The Hill McGill.
Watkins and his BSU teammates will play under McGills retired No. 12 jersey when the Broncos (6-1) visit Utah (5-2) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday inside the John M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.
Its great seeing his name up there, Watkins said. He was a great player and he put up some crazy numbers. Its cool having someone like that in my family.
Injuries derailed what many thought would be a Hall of Fame career for McGill, but when Watkins said his granddad put up crazy stats, he isnt kidding. The 6-foot-9 center averaged 27 points and 12.9 rebounds per game during his Utah career from 1959 to 1962. He scored at least 50 points four times, including a school-record 60 versus rival BYU.
Those are some impressive genes Ryan has, Boise State coach Leon Rice said. The thing about (McGill) is hes probably one of the greatest players nobody knows about. When we recruited Ryan, thats when I really learned about (McGill) and all the incredible things he accomplished. His numbers are hard to fathom.
McGill led Utah to the Final Four as a junior and was a first-team All-American as a senior while leading the nation with 38.8 points per game.
Ive seen his clips, and he could really play, Watkins said. I spent a lot of time with him growing up, and he definitely helped me with my game. He taught me the jump-hook thats how he scored all his points.
Many credit McGill with inventing or at least popularizing the jump-hook shot. According to NBA Hall of Famer and former ESPN analyst Bill Walton, the shot came into use after McGill a high school freshman at the time used it to score the winning basket over Wilt Chamberlain during a legendary 1955 pickup game at the Denker Playgrounds of inner-city of Los Angeles.
And to this day, wrote Walton in a 2003 ESPN.com article, Billy McGill has never had his jump hook blocked.
The Chicago Zephyrs made McGill the top pick in the 1962 NBA Draft. He played three NBA seasons and two more in the ABA, averaging 10.5 points and 4.4 rebounds. But a knee injury McGill suffered in high school ended his pro career prematurely in 1970.
During his college heyday, McGills ailing knee had to be drained of fluid regularly.
His work ethic is what made him so good, Watkins said. He refused to let the injury stop him.
Watkins own work ethic has been an area of focus this year. The 6-9 junior changed his uniform number and his practice habits, committing to a season of zero excuses, zero regrets. He has emerged as the Broncos top big man, averaging 7.4 points and five rebounds while starting all seven games.
Ryan is doing a great job for us, junior teammate Jeff Elorriaga said. It doesnt always show up on the stat sheet, but he and (senior post Kenny Buckner) do a lot of dirty work that helps us win games.
Frontcourt play has been crucial during the Broncos hot start and as the teams only experienced big men, Watkins and Buckner will continue to play a huge role as the season wears on.
The beauty of those two is how well they fill their roles, Rice said. They are asked to hold down the fort against bigger opponents, and theyve been answering the challenge every single game.
Utah is the next big test, and while Watkins isnt likely to threaten McGills scoring records, hell settle for a victory at his granddads old stomping grounds.
There is always room to get better, Watkins said. Im just going to keep competing and doing whatever I can to help the team win, because were not satisfied with having a good November.
UTAH WILL HONOR RICK MAJERUS BEFORE TONIGHTS GAME
School officials will honor the coachs legacy by hanging a replica of his trademark white sweater from the rafters of the Huntsman Center before tipoff against Boise State. There will be a moment of silence and players will wear black patches. Majerus, who coached Utah from 1989 to 2004 and regularly led the Utes to the NCAA Tournament, died Saturday in Los Angeles while awaiting a heart transplant. He was 64. Rick did it his way, Krystkowiak said. He wasnt interested in making everybody happy, but if you were part of that basketball fraternity, then he had a special way to touch everybody.