Written by Hana Matthys, UMKC Athletics
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Former UMKC men’s basketball student-athlete, Michael Watson, will be the third athlete in UMKC history to have their jersey number retired. His #22 jersey will be honored during an on-court ceremony scheduled to be held on Saturday, February 16 at Swinney Center. That day, the Roos face CSU Bakersfield with the game beginning at 6 p.m. CST. For tickets, call 844-UMKC-FAN or click here.
Throughout Watson’s basketball career at UMKC, which spanned four seasons from 2000 – 2003, he scored 2,488 points making him the all-time leading scorer in UMKC history. He is also the second all-time leading scorer in the Summit League (formerly known as the Mid-Continent Conference). Watson broke the school scoring record held previously by former Roos great Tony Dumas. Dumas went on to play four seasons in the NBA in the mid-1990s for the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns.
“It was an honor to break those records held by the great Tony Dumas,” commented Watson. “I had some of the best teammates who allowed me to do my part to help us win. I would have never been able to break any of those records if it weren’t for those guys.”
Watson credits much of his recognition to his teammates and coaches throughout his time at UMKC, especially former head coach Rich Zvosec, Ken Dempsey and Jason Ivey. With the help of his teammates and Watson’s scoring firepower, UMKC boasted one of its most successful seasons in 2001-02. During that campaign, the Roos received votes in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Poll for the first-time in school history ultimately finishing with an 18-11 overall record.
In 2004, Watson was named a first-team All-Mid-Continent Conference selection for the third year in a row, which is the most of any player in a Roo uniform. He joined Dumas as the only Roo players to be recognized twice on the NABC All-District Second Team.
“Michael has left an indelible mark on the history of our men’s basketball program,” said UMKC Director of Athletics Dr. Brandon Martin. “As a player and professional, he has represented the values and characteristics of the great city of Kansas City. We are honored to celebrate his legacy.”
Watson is the school career leader in three-pointers made with 391 and is ranked 13th in NCAA history. The Kansas City Central (Mo.) High School product also holds UMKC career records for games started (114), games played (117), minutes played (4,345), field goals made (850) and three-pointers attempted (1,098). In addition, Watson holds the record for most points scored in a single game (54) against Oral Roberts University. During that performance, he drilled 10 three-pointers, which also stands as the best single-game mark.
"Mike was one of the hardest workers I ever had the privilege of coaching,” said former UMKC head coach Rich Zvosec, who was at the helm for six years from 2001 – 06. “He was a self-made player who spent countless hours working on developing his craft. Mike was a great example to all the young up-and-coming players in Kansas City. His desire to bring a championship to his hometown was unmatched. I am so excited that this honor will be bestowed upon him. He has been a great ambassador for the program and the university."
From the beginning to the end of Watson’s time at UMKC, he set records that will make an everlasting impact on UMKC Athletics. His experiences at UMKC have even made an impact on his day-to-day life.
“Athletics have given me so much in life that I don't know where I would be today without them,” said Watson. “The life lessons learned through athletics are still seen in my life today.”
After his senior season at UMKC, the 6-1 guard signed as a free agent with the NBA’s Boston Celtics in 2004.
“My goal my entire career at UMKC was to play in the NBA and to be able to reach that goal was huge for me,” commented Watson. “The time with the Celtics is one that I'll never forget. There is nothing in the world like playing in the NBA.”
He later went on to play professional basketball for eight years in Poland, Turkey, Italy,
France and his native Puerto Rico, where he became an International Champion in 2007.
“My time in Europe and Puerto Rico were some of the best times of my life,” said Watson. “A kid from Kansas City used a basketball to see the world.”
Watson’s passion for sports and his experiences at UMKC inspired him to launch the non-profit youth sports organization, ‘MENTALITY by Michael Watson’ in 2017. Through 'MENTALITY', Michael works to encourage student-athletes by giving them the tools and resources to be successful in athletics and academics. The purpose of 'MENTALITY' is to help athletes develop the right mindset to compete both physically and mentally on-and-off the field of play.
Watson says, “talent and skill sets are important, but the ability to excel at the mental aspect and approach to athletics is essential for Greatness."
“My experiences at UMKC definitely inspired me to start MENTALITY,” commented Watson. When I retired from pro ball, one of the things I wanted to do was to ensure that kids who wanted to participate in athletics, no matter the socioeconomic backgrounds, were able to do so.”
Watson joins two other Roos to have their UMKC numbers retired: volleyball player Catalina Suarez-Moss and men’s basketball player Ronnie Schmitz.
Editor’s note: Current basketball player, redshirt-sophomore forward Brandon Suggs, wears jersey #22 and will continue to for the rest of the season. After the completion of the 2018-19 season, #22 will no longer be worn in honor of Michael Watson.