From Gamecocks glory to coaching glory: Watson, Davis and McKie continue success
They were known as the Three Amigos and Lethal Weapon III to college basketball fans.
Davis, Watson and McKie bios
Melvin WatsonAge: 38High School: BurkePlaying Career: Watson was named All-SEC in 1996-98 and still ranks as South Carolina’s all-time leader in games started (116), while he also ranks first in career assists (543) and fourth in steals (194). Watson ranks 14th all-time in South Carolina history with 1,424 points and was a 41.1% career shooter. Played professionally for seven seasons in Cyprus, Greece and Belgium.Coaching: Watson has been the head coach at South Pointe High School for the last two seasons. The Stallions are 36-14 during that span, including a 22-2 mark this year.Larry DavisAge: 39High School: Denmark-OlarPlaying Career: Davis averaged more than 44 points a game as a senior at Denmark-Olar High School. Won a national title at North Carolina in 1993 before transferring to South Carolina. One of only two players in USC history to record more than 1,000 points in two seasons. He was named All-SEC in 1996 and 1997. Played professionally for seven seasons in Korea, South America. Spain and Belgium.Coaching: Davis has been the head coach at Lewisville High School for the past two seasons. Davis has a 31-20 mark with Lewisville. Davis led Lewisville to the Class A state title earlier this month. It was the first state title in 37 years for Lewisville.BJ McKieAge: 35High School: IrmoPlaying Career: McKie finished his career at South Carolina (1996-99) as the Gamecocks’ all-time leading scorer with 2,119 points. McKie was named the 1996 SEC Freshman of the Year, and earned First Team All-SEC honors for three seasons. McKie scored in double figures 111 times and recording 38 games with 20 or more points.McKie played professionally for more than a decade in the CBA, the D-League with the North Charleston Lowgaters, and eventually played overseas in France, Italy, Cyprus, Germany and Israel.Coaching: McKie has been an assistant coach at Charleston Southern the past two seasons. Helped led the Bucs to a Big South regular-season title and spot in Big South title game and NIT spot this season.
To people more familiar with South Carolina’s team, they were Snap, Crackle and Pop or Earth, Wind and Fire.
Whatever moniker Melvin Watson, Larry Davis and BJ McKie traveled under back in the mid-1990s, they left an indelible mark on the Gamecocks’ basketball program.
On the court, Watson, Davis and McKie were the perfect complements to one another.
Watson was tough, defensive-minded and unselfish. He was a pass-first point guard who got Davis and McKie involved in the offense.
Davis was the flash. A high-flying shooting guard who never met a shot he didn’t like or wouldn’t take. He could score in bunches and often did, becoming only the second player in USC history to score 1,000 points in just two seasons.
McKie was a combination of power and finesse, able to penetrate and dish to his teammates or create his own shot. He finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Separately, all had impressive resumes, but together they were nearly unbeatable.
Playing in coach Eddie Fogler’s three-guard system, the dynamic trio led the Gamecocks to 43 victories from 1995-97, with an NCAA tournament appearance and a top-5 national ranking.
All three went on to have successful professional playing careers overseas and are now flourishing on the sidelines as coaches. McKie is an assistant coach at Charleston Southern; Watson and Davis are head coaches at South Pointe and Lewisville high schools, respectively.
Nearly 15 years removed from those two seasons, Fogler said he can’t help but feel a sense of pride in the accomplishments of his three former players.
“To watch them develop as people and as coaches has been great to watch,” Fogler said. “I’m not surprised at all by their success on and off the court. You can see their values in the teams they are coaching today. To have had some small part in that is very satisfying.”
When Fogler arrived in Columbia in 1993, the Gamecocks were among the worst programs in the SEC, winning just 19 games the two previous seasons combined.
Watson signed with the Gamecocks in Fogler’s second season.
The former Burke High School star started all 27 games and led the Gamecocks in scoring as a freshman.
USC struggled to a 10-17 mark, but Watson showed promise. And help was on the way.
The following season the Gamecocks added Davis — who had sat out the 1994-95 season after transferring from North Carolina, where he was a member of the Tar Heels’ national championship team — and McKie, the state’s reigning Mr. Basketball at Irmo High School.
It didn’t take long for Fogler to realize that Watson, Davis and McKie needed to be on the floor at the same time, but this went against conventional wisdom at the time.
“This was before three-guard offenses became so popular,” Fogler said.
The Gamecocks won 19 games, including a game in the SEC tournament and two more games in the National Invitation Tournament.
“It was the start,” Davis said. “I think that season gave everyone a lot of confidence going into the next year.”
The relationship between the three guards who appeared to be so in sync on the floor wasn’t as close off the floor. Watson and McKie, while friends, were not close and rarely hung out together away from the basketball court.
“It’s funny to think about it now, but when (Fogler) signed BJ, I didn’t like it,” Watson said. “I thought about transferring. I’d had a pretty good freshman season, so I wondered why we needed another point guard. I thought he was there to take my job.”
It wasn’t until a team trip to Europe the summer following Watson’s sophomore season that he and McKie finally had a heart-to-heart talk.
“We got everything out in the open, and from that day on, BJ has been one of my best friends,” Watson said. “I think that helped us that next season.”
The following year was one of the best in the program’s history. The Gamecocks finished the season 24-8 overall and 15-1 in the SEC, which included two wins over Kentucky. USC climbed to No. 4 in the national rankings. Not since the late 1960s had the Gamecocks been part of the national conversation.
But the season ended abruptly in the NCAA tournament when South Carolina became the first No. 2 seed to ever fall in the first round — a 78-65 loss to Coppin State.
“I still hear about that game to this day,” McKie said. “It’s not something I like to talk about.”
Davis graduated from USC in 1997. Despite being without their backcourt teammate, Watson and McKie led the Gamecocks to their second straight NCAA tournament appearance in 1998, only to lose again in the opening round to Richmond.
After college, all three played several years overseas in more than a dozen countries and on three different continents. Davis and Watson dabbled in coaching after their playing careers were over, working as assistant coaches at the high school level. McKie’s plan all along was to get into coaching.
“I’ve wanted to coach since I was in high school,” McKie said. “I wanted to stay around the game and give something back to it.”
When Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh heard McKie was looking for a job, he hired him on the spot. Radebaugh was an assistant coach at South Carolina when McKie, Davis and Watson were there.
“I knew BJ had a tremendous work ethic and he really knows the game,” Radebaugh said. “He’s a great teacher and has done a great job with our guards.”
Just two years removed from his playing days, McKie, 35, still has plenty of game. He’s not shy about giving first-hand demonstrations to the Buccaneers guards if he thinks its necessary. McKie helped lead the Bucs to the Big South title and a spot in the NIT.
“BJ’s in great shape. He can still play,” said Radebaugh, whose Bucs won the Big South Conference this season to earm a spot in the National Invitation Tournament.
Davis and Watson landed head coaching jobs two years ago.
Davis led Lewisville to a 13-10 mark in his first season, while Watson’s Stallions went 14-12.
This past season, Lewisville went 17-11 and won the Class A state championship.
“It was so gratifying to see the kids grow and have their hard work pay off,” said Davis.
Watson’s South Pointe team went 22-2, losing in the playoffs to Irmo, the eventual state champion in Class AAAA.
Davis and Watson faced each other on the basketball court as opposing coaches. South Pointe won both games.
McKie frequently exchanges texts with Davis and Watson during the season and kept up with their progress as the season went on. McKie was there when his son Justin led Irmo past South Pointe in the playoffs.
“I felt a little bad for Melvin because I know how much work he put into this season,” McKie said. “His team played just like he did when we were together. Tough, smart, unselfish. It was great to watch.”
For the three former Gamecocks, it’s been tough to watch USC’s basketball program struggle for so long.
McKie, whose son has signed to play for the Gamecocks, believes Frank Martin is the right coach to turn things around.
“He holds his players accountable,” McKie said. “I think that’s important. He’s got them moving in the right direction. I just hope the fans give him a chance.”
Like McKie, Davis and Watson hope to coach at the collegiate level eventually. Fogler and Radebaugh believe that will happen sooner rather than later.
“They know the game, they relate to kids so well and they work hard,” Radebaugh said. “If Melvin and Larry’s goal is to become college coaches, I have no doubt they’ll make it.”
Watson said if he ever becomes a head coach, two of his first calls for assistant jobs will be to McKie and Davis.
“That would be a no-brainer,” Watson said. “I know what we’re capable of accomplishing together.”