Waterford Kettering's Shelby Watts yells out instructions to teammates during Tuesday's KLAA North game against Walled Lake Western. Watts had a double-double, as the Captains won, 46-37, to pull into a first-place tie with the Warriors in the division. (The Oakland Press/VAUGHN GURGANIAN)
Basketball - Girls
GIRLS BASKETBALL: Kettering's Watts catches on in expanded role WITH VIDEO
Waterford Kettering's Shelby Watts pulls down a rebound in Tuesday's game against Walled Lake Western. Primarily a rebounder and defender earlier in her career, the senior has become more of a focal point of the Captains' offense this season. (The Oakland Press/VAUGHN GURGANIAN)
Walled Lake Western's Shelby Turnquist (21) tries to keep up with Waterford Kettering's Shelby Watts in the open floor during Tuesday's game. (The Oakland Press/VAUGHN GURGANIAN)
The ball comes up the floor, and gets passed around the perimeter.
Bounce, bounce, pass ...
A guard tries to feed it into a teammate on the low block around the waving arms of a defender, and misses badly ... or so it seems until a pair of long arms snake out from the post and snatch it, like a wideout reaching out and snaring a touchdown pass, pulling it back in.
If you’ve seen how much a long-armed wide receiver can help a less-than-accurate quarterback, you already know how valuable a commodity it can be to have long arms like those with which Waterford Kettering’s Shelby Watts is graced.
They’re oh-so-helpful for a multitude of basketball-related things — rebounding, blocking shots, swiping away a dribble and catching errant passes, all categories in which Watts excels.
Even if no one knows exactly how long her arms are.
“Never measured it out. Long enough. Especially on rebounds. That’s when you really see it,” said Kettering coach Scott Woodhull of his senior’s prodigious wingspan.
“I haven’t measured it, but I think at least 6 foot. I’m 6-(foot)-1, so it’s gotta be at least 6-foot or more,” Watts agreed, after her double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds) helped lead the Captains to a 46-37 win over Walled Lake Western.
“I’d like to bulk up a bit on the arms, but they’re working good for me now. I’ve got the legs, so that really helps me, especially going after those rebounds. Not only do I have the legs to get the jump, but I have the reach to get up there and grab it, pull it down.”
On last year’s senior-laden squad that made it all the way to the Class A quarterfinals, the long-limbed Watts had a much different role. Hers was a defensive profile, a rebounding and shot-blocking skill set, using those arms to the team’s advantage.
With this year’s young team, though, she’s had to play a far different role, as much more of the offense runs through her.
“She got all the second-chance points, the secondary stuff. They’re guarding (off) her, and she slips open. This year, she’s getting the ball as a primary part of our offense. And she’s made it happen,” Woodhull said of Watts, one of two returning senior contributors that has helped the young, rebuilt Captains squad to an 11-1 record, and now a first-place tie in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association’s North Division.
“She’s making the little 12-footers, 13-footers. She made a 3-pointer tonight (her first). I wouldn’t even let her THINK about shooting one in the past. But in practice, she’s getting a rhythm on it. I mean, it was good when she let it go.”
It was an expanded role she knew she’d have, given how much experience the team lost to graduation.
Kettering’s most improved player in the 2011-12 season might have become its most important — at least early on, as youngsters fit into new roles — in the 2012-13 campaign.
“Coming in as a senior, and coming in as a returning starter, I knew that there was going to be a lot of pressure on me to bring up the team, and keep our team going. I just know that I have to go out there and play my hardest, and I have to be a big presence in and outside of the lane,” Watts said.
While she’s expanded her range considerably, most of her damage still comes right around the basket. And unless it’s on an offensive rebound, the ball has to get into the post somehow.
For a back-to-the-basket player, there are a litany of things to think about when posting up: Position of your feet, where your defender is, where the ball is coming, and what you’re going to do with it when you get it.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of things you have to think about when you’re in there. But after a lot of years of playing, you’re able to feel where the girl is at, hold her out, know where the ball is, know where the pass is coming to, get in your stance, and catch that ball,” Watts said. “As long as I’m in stance, and I’m focused on that ball, I can reach out there and grab it.”
Even if it’s not quite on-target.
Or, sometimes, not remotely on-target.
In that whole litany of things to think about, catching the ball should be the last thing a post player has to worry about.
But in high school basketball, perfect placement on passes is usually pretty rare, so there’s no end to how valuable a post player is that can reach out and snag an errant throw. According to Woodhull, that’s a skill that Watts has refined.
“She’s learned how to catch. It’s been a while,” the veteran coach said. “She struggled a bit when she was young, but she’s really learned how to block and trap and contain and control the ball.”
It’s just one of the many refinements Watts has made in her game throughout her career, learning how to harness the advantage she has in her long legs and arms.
Another is learning how to rebound without succumbing to the temptation of just reaching for everything, even if she’s blocked out, and picking up silly fouls.
“She’s learned how to really go up vertical. She rarely has her hands in an umbrella position, where the referees call a foul. She keeps it back behind her head. As a result of that, she’s really learned how to challenge shots without always blocking them,” Woodhull said. “And that’s half the battle.”
It’s something that goes without saying anymore.
“I think a lot of times, he knows that’s my biggest (fault), is definitely that over-the-back call. It definitely gets me a lot, trying to go up and get those rebounds, and going really aggressively for the rebounds. He knows that’s something that I need to work on, and he knows that I can work on that myself,” Watts said. “He reminds me, but he knows that I’ll be able to control it myself, and kind of hold back on that.”
Like their senior center, the rest of the young Captains are starting to fill into new roles very capably, leaving the squad not much different — at least in record — than at this time last year, or the year before.
“We knew that a lot of people were doubting us this year, with having lost so many seniors, but we knew we could come out (and to it again). We got a bunch of new talent on the team, and our chemistry this is very good, and we’re able to work together just as well as last year. Yeah, we lost five or six girls, but we gained just as many, and we’re still as strong off the bench, and strong on the court all around,” Watts said.
“And people that doubted us, it just goes to show, we’re still the same team, and we’re still out here to win, and we’re coming for that state title this year.”
Email Matthew B. Mowery at email@example.com.