Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
(Ed. Note: This story is the latest in CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2021-22 season preview coverage. As we publish more, the complete list of schools previewed will be found here.)
Since they first began playing basketball, the goal has always been the same: Stay together. In playground games, in camps, in AAU summer tournaments, throughout grade school and high school, twins Kaseem and Kareem Watson were able to do that.
Kareem Watson (above) and his brother Kaseem will continue their careers together in college. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Now the West Catholic Prep 6-foot-7 senior duo are taking their journey side-by-side with one another again, after they signed a national letter of intent to attend California State University, Bakersfield on basketball scholarships next fall.
The Watsons made it official Wednesday morning and faxed their national letter of intent to the school, Roadrunners’ head coach Rod Barnes and assistant coach Mike Scott, who’s from Philadelphia.
They were getting attention locally by Drexel, and New Mexico State, Cleveland State, Hofstra, Delaware State, Eastern Michigan and Niagara were involved.
They chose USC-Bakersfield.
“Coach Barnes made us his business,” said Kaseem, who plans on majoring in engineering with his brother. “He told us to do the work and he kind of hinted we would get a chance to start together as true freshmen. But we have to put in the work and anything can happen.
“Kareem and I were staying together. Wherever we went, we were staying together. There was nothing that was going to separate us.”
“Landing us was big for coach Scott. They’ve made sure to make us their business. Maybe this builds up a connection between Bakersfield and the Philadelphia area. Who knows? I look at the local programs and a lot missed out on us. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Kareem and Kaseem admitted they each have peace of mind now that the recruiting is over.
“My mind is focused on one thing and my teammates, and the only thing I have on my mind is winning a Catholic League championship,” Kaseem said. “We’re getting a $160,000 education and we love the campus. It’s about an hour from Los Angeles and about 30 minutes from the beach.”
When the twins made their visit to USC Bakersfield, Barnes stressed to them that they need to get stronger. They’re 18 and there is a chance, according to Kaseem, that they still may grow another two inches.
Kaseem Watson (above) and West Catholic are one of the favorites in the Catholic League. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Two weeks ago, when the Watsons went on their official visit to USC Bakersfield, they walked into coach Barnes’ office and gave him an oral commitment.
“Coach Barnes made me, my brother and my whole family feel really comfortable,” Kareem said. “The pressure is gone. We only have one thing to focus on now and that’s winning, winning, winning, and that means the Catholic League, the city and the states.
“It was big to get away. That was one of our main goals, to get away and focus mainly on school and basketball. I think if there was a second place, I would say it was Delaware State.”
The last time West Catholic won a Philadelphia Catholic League championship was 1959, led by legends Jim Boyle, Herb Magee and Jimmy Lynam.
In the previous three years under Burrs’ head coach Miguel Bocachica, West Catholic has gone from 6-17 overall (3-11 in the Catholic League) in 2018-19, to 9-14 (5-9) in 2019-20, to 7-5 (6-4) in the pandemic-plagued 2020-21 season—marking the Burrs’ first league winning record since 2009.
West Catholic reached the 2021 District 12 3A championship, where it lost to Math, Civics and Sciences (61-50).
USC Bakersfield plays in the WAC and went 15-11 overall last season, and 9-7 in conference. They already have one local player on the roster in former Shipley big man Ray Somerville.
“I’ve known Mike Scott for a long, long time, we grew up playing together,” Bocachica said. “USC Bakersfield showed the twins the most love, and personally, I’m just glad that is it over and they can move forward without worrying about a lot of things [other] than playing basketball.
“I wanted the twins to go somewhere where they will be loved and they’re projected to be big guards, or wings. It’s what we have them doing here, so Kareem is going to be Kareem, and Kaseem is going to be Kaseem. They get up-and-down, and they’re getting two quality guys that fit well with what they do.”
“I can also see the twins growing a few inches and how much larger they get a year from now.”
Like his brother, Kaseem repeated what goals are left to conquer now: “Winning, winning, winning. We know we have the players and the talent to do it. We know the history.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.