Ashley Watts’ primary motivation comes from loss. Not on the court, but off it.
It has molded her into the player and person that she has become for Paine’s women’s basketball team.
Cyan Patricia Scoggins was a friend of Watts while playing on the AAU circuit. Scoggins, a former student at Langford Middle School, died of a tumor in 2007.
“Cyan’s memory is what drives me to play basketball,” said Watts, fighting back tears. “Two weeks before she passed her mom told me that I was her hero. She said that she was starting to model her game after mine.
“I have her name tattooed on my shoulder. On the days where I don’t feel like getting up to work on my game, I look at this tattoo and make my way to the gym.”
Watts leads Division II in scoring at 26.2 points per game. The junior guard has owned up to the responsibility and pressure that comes with that challenge.
“It is a humbling experience. I feel like all of my hard work has paid off,” she said. “My mom keeps up with my stats more than I do. I just found out I was leading the (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) in scoring when I scored my 1,000th point earlier this year against Albany State.”
Watts doesn’t speak loud or look like a fierce competitor. She is relaxed and smiles often.
When she speaks about basketball, however, she reveals her competitive nature.
“I classify myself as a scorer, because my game has evolved so that I can do more than just shoot the basketball,” Watts said. “I’m most effective when I’m the ball handler on a screen. I feel like coming off screens, if I don’t get double teamed, I’m unguardable.”
Watts’ collegiate basketball career started at Lander. She stayed for only a year because she said the environment wasn’t for her.
“Lander was a good program, but it wasn’t for me,” Watts said. “The coach there wanted to keep me in a box and keep me primarily as a shooter. I didn’t feel like he respected me as a well-rounded player.”
She played behind Jasmine Judge, a Hephzibah graduate and the Peach Belt Conference’s all-time leader in three-point field goals made with 403.
“He wanted me to be like her and I had developed more than that in my game,” Watts said. “To me, basketball is life and I was starting to lose my love for the game. When I felt that, I knew it was time to get out of that situation.”
Coach Willie Adams said having a top-five scorer, who is a willing passer, comes with a plethora of advantages.
“They are showing her a lot of attention, which leaves people open,” Adams said. “She is passing really well and finding the open man. When she does that, it creates more opportunities for her in one-on-one situations.”
“Scoring is important, but I would much rather rack up assists than points,” Watts said. “Everyone talks about scoring but I’m ranked second in the conference in assists (4.8 per game). As long as we win, I don’t care if I have to pass it or shoot it.”
Keisha Stewart coached Watts at Butler. She said her growth into the player that she has become is no surprise. Her growth as a person is what Stewart has enjoyed most.
“I see how she is flourishing within the system they have for her, but I’m more proud of how she has handled herself,” Stewart said. “I always asked her what she would do when the ball stopped bouncing. I’m proud of the person that she has become. From her game to her grades, I’m honored to have taught her in any part of her life.”
Watts has been a scorer since her days at Butler. She is still the Bulldogs’ all-time leading scorer with 2,101 career points.
She said playing in a familiar place has rekindled her love for the game.
“In a year and a half, I’ve already scored 1,000 points and I want to get to 2,000 before I leave,” Watts said. “This environment gives me the same level of confidence I had from high school. I feel like if I did it there, then I can do it here.”
Awards have been the norm for Watts since arriving at Paine. She won newcomer of the year in 2013, but she said her most prized award came when she was recognized for maintaining a 3.0 GPA during the 2013 fall semester.
“It’s a big honor because people look at athletes like we don’t do any work,” Watts said. “That achievement is bigger than any basketball award that I could receive. We get home from a really long road trip and it takes a lot to get up and go to class. Basketball came natural in some ways, but that’s an award that I worked really hard for.”
Adams said with a little work, Watts could be one of the better two-way players in recent conference history.
“She has to grow on the defensive side of the ball,” Adams said. “She works hard at it, so her skills are coming along. If she continues to work, her defense will create more offense for her.”
Watts said that she has yet to live up to her full potential on the court, but she doesn’t want basketball to be the only thing people remember her for.
“I don’t want people to confuse my competitive nature on the floor for me being mean. I’m the sweetest person ever,” Watts said. “Of course on the floor I trash talk, it is part of the game. I never start the talking, though.”
Watts dreams of one day playing professionally. She said that her goal would be to one day return to the city that allowed her to grow as a player.
“I love Augusta,” Watts said. “Most people don’t say that, but this city raised me. How could I not love it and want to give back everything that it has given me?”