After one season in which he showed occasional flashes of his tantalizing upside, Peyton Watson has bid farewell to college basketball.
The UCLA freshman guard announced on social media Tuesday that he was hiring an agent and forgoing his remaining collegiate eligibility, driven by his massive potential to immediately pursue a professional career.
“I’m excited for the next chapter and I’m ready to fulfill my lifelong goal of being an NBA player,” Watson wrote on Twitter and Instagram while saying he would enter the NBA draft.
Most mock draft boards have projected the 6-foot-8 Watson as a second-round pick, but the former Long Beach Poly High star is considered an enticing prospect largely because of his length and athleticism. He could improve his stock by impressing teams at the combine or in individual workouts.
The first McDonald’s All-American recruited by UCLA coach Mick Cronin to play for the Bruins, Watson averaged 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game while exclusively coming off the bench. He struggled with shooting, making 32.2% of his shots and 22.6% of his three-pointers, but carved out a niche as a defensive stopper alongside Jaylen Clark.
Watson’s finest moment might have come during a home victory over Arizona in late January when he recovered to block a shot by Justin Kier, momentarily hovering over the Wildcats guard who fell to the court while the crowd roared.
But his playing time was sporadic. Watson logged 10 or more minutes in only two of the Bruins’ final seven games and just three minutes in the season-ending loss to North Carolina in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
“Forever a Bruin,” Watson tweeted alongside an emoji of a blue heart. “Although we didn’t reach all of our goals as a team this season, my experience at UCLA made me a better person and a better player. Thank you to the UCLA coaching staff and my teammates for helping create memories I will carry with me for a lifetime. And to the fans who packed out Pauley Pavilion, I appreciate your tremendous support.”
Cronin continually praised Watson’s work ethic, attitude and ability to influence games in ways other than by scoring. Before practices, Watson was known to walk around the gym and shake his teammates’ hands as a friendly gesture.
“We are very excited for Peyton,” Cronin said in a statement. “We all know he has tremendous upside as a basketball player, and we were fortunate to have him in Westwood. Peyton came to work every day with a great attitude and a burning desire to improve himself as a player. Peyton is a great teammate and a wonderful person, and we thank him for choosing UCLA. He will always be a part of the Bruin family. We look forward to watching him and rooting for him as a professional for many years to come.”
Watson becomes the second Bruin to depart, joining junior guard Jake Kyman, who transferred to Wyoming. Other players with remaining eligibility who have not announced their intentions include Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell, Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Myles Johnson and David Singleton.