Gotta root for that team up north in the Final Four

Even though the Mid-Ohio Valley on the Ohio side of the river is predominantly “Buckeye country,” local college basketball fans will have at least one good reason to cheer for the University of Michigan in the NCAA Final Four at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Tx., this upcoming weekend.

Ibi Watson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore Wolverine guard/forward, played his formative years in Marietta.

Michigan (32-7) is scheduled to play Loyola Chicago (32-5) at 6:09 p.m. Saturday, while Kansas (31-7) takes on Villanova (34-4) at 8:49 p.m. in the nightcap. The winners of those two games will face off in the D1 national championship game at 9:20 p.m. Monday.

The 20-year-old Watson played sparingly for the Wolverines this past season. Averaging 5.6 minutes of playing time, he scored 2.3 points and grabbed .7 rebounds per game.

He is an excellent three-point shooter with nine of his 19 buckets being triples.

Watson’s uniform number is 23, the same number worn by ex-Wolverine and NBA’s Brooklyn Nets Caris LeVert.

LeVert also attended Pickerington Central, Watson’s prep alma mater as well.

Born in Atlanta, Ga., in 1998, Watson’s mother, Molly, moved to Marietta when he was very young. Residing in the Norwood area, he got his start playing elementary and then middle school hoops until his mom moved to Athens when he was in the eighth grade.

One of his coaches was John Flannery and one of his teammates was Garrett Bertram, son of Marietta City Law Director Paul Bertram III.

As an Athens High cager for two seasons, Watson averaged 17.5 points per game and helped the Bulldogs claim two Tri-Valley Conference championships.

After his sophomore year, he transferred to Pickerington Central where he helped the Tigers (and not the Marietta ones, either) win the 2016 Ohio Capital Conference crown. At Pickerington, he averaged 19.2 ppg.

Highly touted and recruited by schools like Akron, Dayton, Miami (Ohio), Indiana, Florida, VCU, and Missouri, Watson ultimately settled on that school up north — Michigan.

As a Michigan frosh, he set the school record in the vertical jump with a leap of 44-1/2 inches.

From Atlanta –with stops in between at Marietta, Athens, and Pickerington — to Ann Arbor — and now to the Final Four in San Antonio, Watson has come a very long ways in a relatively short time.

And, who knows, by late Monday night, he might be adding “member of a national championship team” to his hoops resume.

Ron Johnston is a Marietta Times sports writer, and can be reached at rjohnston@mariettatimes.com

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