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Nate Watson, a fifth-year center for Providence College, finished third in scoring in the Big East last season. | Sun file photo

PROVIDENCE — Concerning Nate Watson, Ed Cooley made a bold assertion Tuesday as his Providence College men's basketball team — and teams around the country — convened for the first official practice of the 2021-22 season.

Standing inside the Ruane Friar Development Center before a group holding recorders and TV cameras, Cooley stated, “If you ask me, I think he’ll be one of the top five players in the country.”

Judging by the preseason prognostications and forecasts that are already in circulation, the cheese definitely stands alone when it comes to Cooley’s belief that Watson should be mentioned in the same breath as the game’s elite.

Lindy’s Sports college basketball preview doesn’t have Watson — the fifth-year center who finished third in Big East scoring last season — among its three All-America teams. In Lindy’s list of the top 150 players, Watson checked in at No. 118. The same publication slotted Watson on the Big East second team.

Turning our attention to Athlon Sports, Watson was named All-Big East first team. Same as Lindy’s, Athlon Sports didn’t pencil in the Friars big man on any of its three All-America teams. Just like Lindy’s, Athlon Sports opted to head in another direction for its Big East Preseason Player of the Year.

Then there’s noted college hoops reporter Jon Rothstein. Watson was absent from Rothstein’s list of preseason All-Americans for the upcoming season.

Is Watson being overlooked or snubbed? If you were to ask Cooley, he would probably concur that his star player isn’t getting the proper attention from the national pundits that he so richly deserves.

Of course, there is a way to make those supposedly in the know eat crow, and that’s by going out and dominating anyone who dares to stand in Watson’s path.

“I think he’s a load to handle,” Cooley said. “His body looks good. I think he’s more confident. He’s expanded his game and really working on his leadership.”

Told of the lofty praise on behalf of his coach, Watson spoke about the goals he has set in advance of his final season in a Friars uniform.

“Hopefully I finish in the top three in [Big East] scoring again, maybe even finish as the leading scorer. Hopefully I can push my rebounds into the top five,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of goals for myself, but I also have a lot of team goals … win the regular-season championship and the Big East Tournament.

“I know myself. I feel I’m a good player but not a great player yet. There are things I can still work on. Hearing coach say that definitely gives me a lot of confidence. I love coach. He loves me. We have a great relationship.”

For Watson, the ability to work out and bond with his PC teammates this past summer was a welcome change of pace after spending the previous summer back at home due to the campus being shuttered for COVID-19 reasons.

“I feel I’m stronger and my shot is more consistent. My touch around the basket is improving,” he said. “The summer is the most important part in terms of conditioning and a lot of other stuff.”

Watson put it on the record that he plans to alter how he’s being perceived nationally by using it as the ultimate source of fuel.

“Every year they underrate me, but I’m used to it,” said Watson. “I’ve got to let my game speak for itself.”

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