LAS VEGAS – Five-star forward Trendon Watford says he feels the pressure to stay home — or at least stay in the South — for his college ball.
Not from his friends … but from just about everybody else.
“Fortunately,” Watford said with a smile, “it’s not up to them.”
Archie Miller would agree. Indiana is currently in a dogfight for Watford, the No. 4 player in the class of 2019 Chosen 25. Alabama, Memphis, Florida State, Kansas, Vanderbilt, LSU and TCU are also vying for the versatile, 6-9 do-it-all big from Birmingham, Ala.
The Hoosiers rarely pull from the South. Tom Crean recruited and Miller maintained Georgia’s Aljami Durham in 2017. Before him, the most recent southern recruit was Tim Priller, a 2014 center from Texas, who played just 71 total minutes for the Hoosiers.
But IU has a tie with Watford that cuts through any regional gap.
In case you live under a rock, Trendon is the younger brother of Christian Watford, who starred at IU from 2009-13. The Hoosiers hope that family connection helps them land an instant-impact star.
“(IU) is a strong place in my heart. Obviously, I’ve visited there for so long. It’s obviously good having a relationship with all the fans there,” Watford told IndyStar at the Las Vegas Summer Showcase. “I’m real comfortable with the area and just everybody there — everybody in Bloomington. They know my whole family. (I’ve) just (been) building a strong relationship with coach Archie.”
Now that the July live periods have wrapped up, Watford said he’ll start to narrow his list and think about official visits. He said he’ll likely take those visits during the basketball season — perhaps sooner — and that he might sign with his school late.
One of those visits will “definitely” be to IU, Watford said.
He has previously taken unofficial visits to Bloomington, but he’d already been on campus loads of times before he had five stars next to his name. He was a constant presence at Assembly Hall during Christian’s junior and senior seasons.
“It’d be a great, great place for him,” said Ernie Kuyper, the president and coach of Watford’s AAU club, Hoop City Elite. “It’d be a great story.”
Watford said Christian has been a rock for him throughout his recruitment — that he’d “be going in all different sorts of directions” without his big brother’s guidance.
“It’s been a blessing,” Christian told IndyStar earlier this month. “Just being able to be here and go through the process with him, kind of guide him through it. I just try to be here, help him with it, constantly stay on him about elevating his game, stay on him to seek greatness, get better and better.”
“Obviously, he thinks it’s a great school and a great program,” Trendon said. “But with the coaching change, he doesn’t persuade me too much. He’s just trying to leave it up to me.”
Coaches from all of Watford’s top schools came to watch him in Las Vegas. IndyStar saw two of Watford’s games with Hoop City Elite; Alabama coach Avery Johnson and Memphis assistant coach Mike Miller sat baseline for both.
Those two schools are thought to be positioned well with Watford.
Alabama offered him way back in 2015 and have made him and his Hoop City Elite teammate Kira Lewis clear 2019 priorities.
“Coach Avery Johnson was the first coach to offer me,” Watford said. “Obviously, everybody wants me to stay down there.”
As for Memphis: Hoop City Elite used to be Mike Miller’s namesake AAU program; it was called M33M before he took the Memphis job. Today, Hoop City Elite is still run by Kuyper, Miller’s cousin. Christian Watford played for Miller with M33M and Trendon has known him for more than a decade.
“I have a strong relationship with coach Mike Miller and coach Penny (Hardaway),” Watford said. “We go way back.”
IU is trying to sell Watford on how it would utilize him in its open, free-flowing offense. Watford said Archie Miller showed him film of Juwan Morgan during his in-home visits, demonstrating how Morgan has excelled in open space with the Hoosiers.
Doing those home visits was great,” Watford said. “Great talk, great relationships.”
And that’s what Watford said his decision will boil down to: relationships — the trust he’s built with coaches that they can help him get to the NBA.
But it’d be silly to think Watford’s family connection to Bloomington won’t be a factor, too. Even though the decision is far off, Watford has pictured himself in a Hoosiers jersey.
“It makes me feel good,” he said. “Obviously, my brother played there. He had a great career there, great four years.
“I’d be grateful to follow in his footsteps.”