C.J. Watson wasn't quite sure when he had last spent time in Knoxville, and he had yet to hold one of his basketball camps to benefit the Quiet Storm Foundation back where he starred for Tennessee on the hardwood.
Judging by the turnout Saturday at Farragut Middle School, Watson might be as popular as ever in the area. The recently-signed Brooklyn Nets guard had an overflow crowd, with all proceeds from the event going to fund the various youth outreach programs sponsored by Watson's Quiet Storm, a play off his nickname.
"It's fun to come back; I haven't been back to Knoxville in a while, and just to finally have our first basketball camp here is good to see the kids smiling," Watson told VolQuest.com. "Yeah, I am actually [surprised by the turnout]. I really haven't been back here in a while, and I haven't played here in a while. It's big. But everyone has done a great job of bringing kids in and getting the word out."
A native of Las Vegas, Watson said his foundation focuses largely on helping kids succeed in the classroom. The camp was organized by emerging sports firm, Allegiant Athletics Agency, a Knoxville-based company that represents Watson, Ramon Sessions and various NFL players, including Eric Berry.
"It benefits kids all over, but especially in Las Vegas where I grew up, places like here and where I've played basketball in the NBA. We're just trying to give back to the kids. Trying to have a free camp every now and then, back to school events, tutoring events," Watson said. "We have a back-to-school event every year with free backpacks and school supplies for the kids. We have tutoring events and tutoring supplies so that we can try to help them do better with their grades."
Watson's tutoring isn't limited to youth. He's in contact with current Vol Jordan McRae, and the two are trying to find time to work out together.
"I talk to Jordan McRae every now and then, just giving him advice. He wants me to come work out with him, but I haven't had a chance," Watson said. "(The message is) just to stay positive, especially in a down year where people don't think you're going to do good and just keep working hard and go from there."
Though Watson hasn't yet gotten to meet Cuonzo Martin, he praised the focus and tough-minded approach of Martin's first set of Vols.
"I've just heard good things about him and watched some of their games. I think he's a defensive-minded coach," Watson said. "He has the attention of the guys; like last year, they weren't picked to do well but they surprised a lot of people. That's where it starts at."
Watson is starting anew this year in Brooklyn, with the Nets moving into a new arena and changing their name under hip-hop artist Jay-Z's ownership group. Watson flourished in Chicago last season for the Bulls, playing a key role for the injured Derrick Rose, and he recently signed a two-year deal with the Nets.
"Just a great decision, great opportunity. Kind of like the same thing in Chicago, backing up a great point guard in Deron Williams and hopefully playing with him more," Watson said. "That's what Coach said.
"(Williams) and Coach Johnson recruited me. I played with Deron on Team USA. Also playing under Avery, he's a great leader and was a great point guard in the league. It is pretty cool, just all that before even basketball is pretty cool. New arena, new buzz, it's cool."