Ahmad Wimbush (above) and Maqi Watson, teammates for one season in high school, will play together in college at Clarion. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Graham Foley (@graham_foley3)
It was before a game in January that Maqi Watson remembers he and Ahmad Wimbush set themselves on the same bandwidth.
The two forwards had both transferred to Math Civics and Sciences High School for their senior year and were getting set to play in their first matchup against bitter rival Constitution.
“‘Yo, Ahmad,’” Watson remembered saying, “‘I’m focused. I want to win this game’...when I told him, he was like ‘yeah bro, I’m focused, too.”
It was a simple moment, but a meaningful one.
Watson went on to drop 12 points and lead the team with 13 rebounds while Wimbush led the defense and added three points in the victory. Watson said it was the beginning of the tandem’s growing chemistry and brotherhood.
The two of them will now head to Clarion University in the fall to once again team up on the court.
While the two players’ immediate futures will be together in northwestern Pennsylvania, their paths to college have been very different.
Watson played his first three years of high school basketball at Parkway Center City, fulfilling a childhood plan. He said he knew coach Terrance Puckett for a “long time” and in sixth grade, Puckett came to his middle school game and told him he would one day be the captain for his team.
When he was accepted to the school for the 2013-14 school year, Watson said the choice was already made.
Wimbush began high school at Imhotep Charter in the fall of 2013, a year after the Panthers won the Class AAA state championship. Following his freshman year, he decided he wanted to come closer to home and play for South Philadelphia High School.
“I’m from South Philly so it was my neighborhood school,” Wimbush said. “I knew everybody there and I felt most at home at that school.”
But it was senior guard Saheed Peoples, a friend of Wimbush’s, who convinced him to come to MCS for his final year. He said the decision was easy to join a team fresh off a trip to the Class A state championship game and play with a close friend.
MCS coach Dan Jackson was excited for the two guys and said that they filled some holes that remained on the team.
“They were very needed with Ed Croswell leaving for Prep,” Jackson said. “Just their size alone when i saw them was impressive but once I got them into the gym I saw that they could be a big help for us.”
A muscular 6-7 forward, Watson (above) has the physicality and skills to play in the PSAC. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Watson, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged 5.2 ppg and 6.5 rpg in his senior season. He scored a season-high 15 points against State College on Dec. 10.
Wimbush, a 6-4, 205 pound guard/forward, averaged 9.4 ppg and 6.8 rpg last season and had a season-high 19 points against St. Georges Tech on Jan. 22.
“Ahmad has this toughness,” Jackson said. “He was our alpha dog last year. Whenever we needed a bucket or a tough stop, he would provide that for us.”
Jackson said when Wimbush and Watson came to the team, they quickly became good friends and worked together well.
“I think it attributed to a lot of our success that they quickly became good friends and decided that they would work together on the court,” Jackson said. “They spent a lot of time together hanging out and doing things together. They built that camaraderie and friendship in one year.”
While their friendship helped MCS go on to win 21 games last season, it also sparked improvement in the classroom. Jackson said that Wimbush is a “great academic student” and he saw Watson’s grades improve as they became friends and Wimbush challenged him.
Wimbush, who is undecided at the moment in regards to his path of study but is “thinking about fitness and athletic training”, said Clarion’s academics helped sell him on the school.
“I really care about my work, so when they let me know about the resources up there at school and the major that I am trying to do, it urged me more and pushed my decision farther,” he said.
“Basketball is always going to be around,” he added. “If you keep your work, basketball will always be there. But at the end of the day, education isn’t.”
Wimbush and Watson plan to live together next year along with Jarrod Stukes, a guard from La Salle College High School. The three will play for a Clarion team that went just 7-21 last year and 4-18 in the Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
They will play under head coach Marcess Williams, who took over the team before the 2014-15 season and led Clarion to its first PSAC tournament appearance in six years. With two of the team’s five forwards from last year graduating, and a few others transferring out, there is a good chance Wimbush and Watson could see some playing time in their first year for the Golden Eagles.
“I think the tandem there will be good they will get to grow together and grow as basketball players on the court,” Jackson said. “And the continuity and the togetherness they had together already will only help Clarion as time goes on.”