New Haven Native Tremont Waters Set for Yale Reunion
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than eight years since it first appeared on YouTube, the video has more than 531,000 views.
It’s parachute sprints and weighted ball passing. It’s resistance band ball dribbling and one-handed form shooting. It’s the world’s first look at a 14-year-old point guard named Tremont Waters, and it’s inside of Yale’s Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
This was the lab where the New Haven native turned All-SEC point guard for LSU was created, his home-not-so-far-away-from-home.
“If I had a strong enough arm, I could have thrown a rock and hit it from my house,” Waters said Wednesday, as his third-seeded Tigers prepare to take on his hometown 14th-seeded Yale Bulldogs Thursday in Round 1 of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
“It was probably a five-minute walk. It was really close. They’re like my neighbors, basically. If I ever needed to go and put up shots, Yale was the gym I went to.”
The precocious teenager whose father purchased a monthly membership to Payne Whitney has transformed into one of the best point guards in the country, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-SEC performer who became the first player since 1991-92 to average 17 points, six assists, and two steals per game in the conference.
It all started in Connecticut, a stone’s throw from home. Some of his earliest basketball memories were formed at Yale’s basketball camps run by head coach James Jones, now in his 20th season at Yale.
“I know Tremont as well as any coach that hasn’t coached him in the country,” Jones told reporters Wednesday.
Waters knows Yale, too. When he cut his list of schools as a high school recruit, Yale made the list of seven finalists.
“I was really considering going to Yale,” he said.
Fortunately for LSU, Waters decided otherwise. Little did he know when he committed to the Tigers in the summer of 2017 that he’d end up playing against Yale in the NCAA Tournament 21 months later.
“Selection Sunday was kind of unbelievable,” he said. “I looked up at the screen, and it said, ‘3 LSU and 14. Yale,’ and I stood up and got excited, because I knew being able to play against them was a great opportunity.”
The matchup is full of familiarity. Waters played AAU ball with Yale sharpshooter Azar Swain, and he’s played pickup against big man Jordan Burner. When LSU was watching film of the Bulldogs this week, Waters warned his teammates Bruner was a better shooter than the stats (28.6% from 30 indicate, because he’s seen him bury 3 after 3 in pick up ball.
“Jordan Bruner was 0-for-10 for his last few 3s, but I was telling our guys through film, he’s somebody who can pick and pop and shoot it, so make sure to play him straight up,” Waters said.
He’s also worked out against Trey Phills, who, serendipitously enough, is the son of the late Southern University star and Baton Rouge native Bobby Phills.
Trey still remembers the pickup game he played against Waters when the latter was still in high school.
“’Who’s this kid? He’s pretty good!’” he recalled Wednesday. “It was a pretty decent back-and-forth.”
“I think we all knew who he was and some of us had played with him and played against him at different parts,” said Miye Oni, Yale’s leading scorer and a potential first-round NBA Draft pick. “He comes back home for the summer a lot. We know he’s a quick point guard, really talented.”
If Yale was the team of proximity in Waters’ life growing up, UConn sparks the most memories of March Madness. Their sub 6-foot point guards with a knack for burying big shots inspired Waters and sparked dreams of dancing in their shoes, one day.
“Shabazz Napier. Kemba Walker. When Kemba Walker hit the in and out, crossover, step back to win the game, I feel like that’s one memory that always stuck out to me,” Waters said. “I’m a small point guard, so to see him do that in a clutch moment, that’s something I always dreamed about doing. Hopefully the game isn’t that close, but if it is, hopefully I can make a play.”
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) March 20, 2019
Yale and UConn may occupy Waters’ memories, but LSU is where his heart is today. He arrived in 2017, he admits, not knowing what to expect – about Baton Rouge, about taking over the reins of a team coming off a 2-16 SEC record, about being so far away from home.
In many ways, he’s still the kid from that video. In other ways, he’s completely changed.
“I feel like I’ve developed as a basketball player, but more as a person, being around a great group of guys last year and this year,” he says.
On Thursday, Waters will complete one chapter in his journey from Payne Whitney to March Madness. What started with Saturday morning workouts and a viral video, he hopes to finish with a win on the biggest stage of his career.
It’s the start of a new journey, beginning at the intersection of where the first one began.
“That’s where I grew up playing basketball,” Waters says. “To be able to come to the NCAA Tournament and play against them in the first game is a humbling and definitely going to be a fun experience.