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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Earl Watson, now in his 12th NBA season and his third with the Jazz, is still playing, in a limited role, but the teaching part of the game is taking over.
Utah Jazz: Earl Watson pours his heart back into basketball
Jazz » Watson reaches out to young players from his hometown.
First Published Apr 07 2012 12:25 pm • Last Updated Aug 05 2012 11:32 pm

Earl Watson had changed Ricky Randle’s life. Now Randle was changing his.

After shootaround last Friday, Watson walked out of the Jazz’s locker room alone. Draped in a hooded sweatshirt, wearing a Wr3ck Mob T-shirt. Quiet, small, at peace.

At a glance

Earl Watson file

Position » Point guard | Year » 11 | Age » 32 Vitals » 6-foot-1, 199 pounds

2012 stats » 3.0 points, 4.4 assists, 2.4 steals

Career » 6.8 points, 4.5 assists, 2.3 steals

Draft » 2001, second round by Seattle | College » UCLA

Born » Kansas City, Kan.

Earl Watson on Kansas City » “What I want to do back home is change the culture. I want to get kids to stop saying, ‘I’m from Crimedotte’ or ‘I’m from Killa City.’ Because I really believe you speak words into existence. If you’re a little kid on the playground and everybody refers to your city as Crimedotte, you buy into it and you become it.”

Jazz at Spurs

At AT&T Center (San Antonio)

Tipoff » Sunday, 5 p.m.

TV » ROOT Sports

Radio » 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM

Records » Jazz 29-27, Spurs 39-14

Last meeting » Spurs, 106-102 (Feb. 20)

About the Jazz » Utah hosts San Antonio on Monday. The two-game run is the Jazz’s only away-home back-to-back during the lockout-shortened season. … Paul Millsap’s averaging 19.6 points on 56.1 percent shooting and 8 rebounds during his past five games.

About the Spurs » San Antonio has won 10 consecutive games and 13 of 14. The Spurs’ last loss was March 17 at Dallas. … San Antonio ranks first out of 30 teams in average 3-point percentage (38.9), third in scoring (102.1), fifth in assists (22.8) and 10th in rebounds (42.7).

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Checking his phone, the 11-year veteran point guard suddenly became charged. He’d received another message from Randle.

"Ricky just told me he was on the ‘Today Show,’ " said Watson, his 32-year-old smile looking like a kid’s.

Randle on a national television program known worldwide? Watson’s vision was coming to life.

Five years ago, Randle wanted out of Kansas City, Kan. He longed for Los Angeles, a university education, something more. He wanted to follow Watson’s footsteps.

The fiery Utah backup had traded violence-plagued Wyandotte County — known as Crimedotte and Killa City, a troubled area tough Jazz guard Alec Burks avoided, despite growing up less than 15 minutes away in Grandview, Mo. — for a life of inspiration and meaning. UCLA to the NBA. The Association to a survivor, carving out an existence as one of the most respected reserve point guards in the league.

With Randle eyeing a new road, Watson blazed a path. He created a spot for Randle on the Kansas City 76ers, a talented summer travel team the Jazz guard sponsors and helps coach. Soon, Randle was seeing things he’d only imagined. Kansas City couldn’t limit or define him. A better life was within reach.

Five years later, another one of Watson’s basketball kids is an educated, hopeful young man. Randle expects to graduate from Loyola Marymount in May with a degree in communication studies and broadcasting. He recently served an internship with KTLA 5 in Los Angeles, interviewing everyone from the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant to the Clippers’ Blake Griffin. And Randle hopes his "Today Show" spot was the start of a career as a TV anchor.

"[Watson] showed me that whatever your dream is, you can reach it, no matter where you’re from," Randle, 22, said.

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The bridge Watson’s building from Kansas City to the outside world has only just begun. His final goal: turn his hometown into a place that lives again.

"What I want to do back home is change the culture. I want to get kids to stop saying, ‘I’m from Crimedotte’ or ‘I’m from Killa City.’ Because I really believe you speak words into existence," Watson said. "If you’re a little kid on the playground and everybody refers to your city as Crimedotte, you buy into it and you become it."

Running free

Watson could’ve become another victim.

He was close to both of his parents. His father was a drill sergeant. He had older brothers who protected him.

But Crimedotte was Crimedotte. No compromise. Few alternatives. Poster city for the "Just Say No" era. The worst of the 1980s.

"If you’ve got crime in your name, that’s tough," Burks said. "But it made [Watson] the man he is today. … It’s a tough place to grow up. But if you make it through, you’re blessed."

Watson remembers being in sixth grade. Allowed to buy school lunch for the first time, he had $3 his mother gave him. He ignored cafeteria food, choosing cookies and nachos.

Watson also recalls the shots. Eight strong pops. Kids running and screaming. Gangs, drugs, prostitutes, robbers and rapists blocks away could no longer be ignored. Murder and violence couldn’t be contained.

"I [saw] the deterioration of community," Watson said.

Watson also saw Maurice Greene running. When the future Jazz guard was in eighth grade, Greene — a two-time Olympic gold-medal winning sprinter — was in 12th. All Greene did was run. Around the oval. In the Kansas City summer heat.

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