Melvin Watson never dreamed of playing in the NBA.
Sure, the former Burke High School basketball star and South Carolina All-American would have loved to have had a long NBA career and reap millions of dollars as a result. But growing up on the playgrounds of downtown Charleston, Watson was realistic about his chances for NBA fame.
"Guys like me, guys 6-0 or 6-1, are a dime a dozen," Watson said with a grin. "I knew that making the NBA would be a longshot. That was never my ultimate goal. I mean, if things worked out and I played in the NBA, great, but I always knew that there was more to my life than playing basketball."
OK, so Watson is still tied to the game he loves. He works as an assistant basketball coach at South Pointe High School in Rock Hill.
"I used basketball to get an education," Watson said. "I knew that I wanted to stay connected to the game, but growing up my mother stressed academics. I had three uncles who were good basketball
players and they all went to college and a degree. That was my goal."
Watson graduated from South Carolina with a degree in retail management and is working on getting his masters in education so he can become a full-time teacher. Along with being an assistant basketball coach at South Pointe, Watson works as an "academic coach" with students.
"I'm about a year away from my masters," Watson said. "I help kids out that are having trouble with their core courses. It's something that I think is important."
It's not like Watson didn't have a professional basketball career. He played six seasons in Europe, mostly in Belgium, before injuring his knee in 2003.
"It was the greatest experience of my life," Watson said. "I got to go to Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia, all over Europe. I saw an entirely different part of the world and met so many people. My family was able to come out and see a lot of Europe as well, and that would have never happened if I wasn't playing basketball."
Despite leading Burke to two Class AAA state title games, Watson was not highly recruited coming out of high school.
"Alabama was the only Division I school that was really interested," Watson said. "I was going to go to junior college at Spartanburg Methodist and take my chances from there."
Rev. Dallas H. Wilson, a local minster, suggested prep school. One season at Winchendon (Mass.) Prep School got Watson the exposure he needed.
"I can't thank Rev. Dallas enough for what they did for me during my career," Watson said. "He really pushed me to go to prep school, and that was the best decision I made."
Watson received more than a dozen scholarship offers and eventually picked South Carolina over Georgetown and Syracuse.
"When Georgetown and Syracuse recruited me, it was all about basketball," Watson said. "When coach (Eddie) Fogler talked to me it was mostly about academics, and that's what got my attention. It was important to him that I get my degree."
The highlight of Watson's career came during his junior season when the Gamecocks went into Rupp Arena and beat Kentucky on national television.
"We'd beaten them earlier in the year at home and I don't think anyone gave us a chance to beat them up there," Watson said. "Coach (Rick) Pitino was still there. They had a great team, but we found a way to beat them and win the regular season. It was a great day."
Watson finished his career as South Carolina's all-time leader in games started (116) and career assists (543). He was fourth in steals (194). Watson ranks 14th all-time in South Carolina history with 1,424 points.
Last March he was recognized as an SEC Legend during the league's basketball tournament.
"It was a humbling experience," Watson said.
His ultimate goal now is to coach at the collegiate level.
"I like high school and love working with the kids, but I want to be on the college level," Watson said. "Being around the tournament last year really made me want to get back to the college level."