Christian Watford had a chance to roll the dice and take an all-or-not-much-more-than nothing chance at his dream.
The former Indiana forward had multiple training camp invites from NBA teams according to his agent Joel Bell. That meant that if nothing else, he’d be in the building with coaches and front-office men and be measured directly in practice against the men whose roster spots he would be trying to take as an undrafted free agent. His foot would at least be in the proverbial door.
But so little is guaranteed to such players, and Watford realized he would have more stability if he postponed the NBA dream and first established himself elsewhere. So on Wednesday, Watford signed with Hapoel Eilat, a team in the top basketball division in Israel, an overseas basketball hotbed.
Turning down an NBA shot wasn’t easy, after Watford played in NBA summer leagues with both the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks. However, Watford decided the risks of falling short were too great.
“Just the simple fact you can go to camp and you get cut,” Watford said. “Camp doesn’t start until October. You get cut in October, the season has already started overseas. When camp is over, a lot of people try to go over and it’s tough to get a spot. And the money issue, you’re not going to get as much money as you would have if you had already signed. I know things are for sure at this point. You don’t want to put yourself in a position to make a decision you don’t want to make.”
Hapoel Eilat finished third in the regular season of Israel’s Winner League last season with a 17-10 record, then reached the semifinals of the playoffs. That group was led by former Tennessee guard Scotty Hopson and former Indiana and Detroit center Eli Holman. Hopson will play in Turkey this year, and Holman is not respected to return. Eilat is coached by Oded Kattash, a 38-year-old former point guard for Maccabi Tel Aviv, the most famous Israeli basketball team.
Bell said Watford perfectly fit Hopel Eilat’s needs. The squad was looking for a forward who could stretch the floor, and Watford has certainly proven capable of doing that. The 6-foot-9 power forward averaged 12.3 points per game last season, making a Big Ten best 48.4 percent of his 3-pointers while also averaging 6.3 rebounds per game and earning All-Big Ten third team honors. He finished his career ranked ninth all time at Indiana with 1,730 points and established his place in IU lore with the 3-point shot that knocked off then No. 1 Kentucky in 2011.
“He fits perfectly,” Bell said. “They really wanted someone like him. He was a player that, when they started talking to them, was a perfect fit. He’ll play some (power forward) for them, some small forward for them, and they’ll work on his skills.”
Bell wouldn’t say what NBA teams offered camp invites or what other overseas teams offered contracts. Watford said there were offers from Germany, Hungary, Russia and Turkey, but wouldn’t name specifics. Even though he won’t be playing in the NBA as he had hoped, Watford said he’s still excited to get started.
“It’s a dream come true to be in professional basketball,” he said.
And Bell said he still believes Watford will reach his ultimate dream and that this will help him do it. He can establish himself in Europe, earn much more money than he would have in the NBA Development League or some other American minor league.
“He’s going to be in the NBA some day,” Bell said. “I don’t have any doubts about that. Thirty or 35 percent of the guys in the NBA right now spent time outside of the NBA at some time in their careers. That’s a huge percentage, high percentage, and I believe he’ll be one of those guys.”