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NBA sponsors newest Net C.J. Watson on trip to Africa

Then-Chicago Bulls guard C.J. Watson looks at the

Then-Chicago Bulls guard C.J. Watson looks at the basket after scoring a 3-pointer during the second half of a game against the Toronto Raptors. (March 24, 2012) Credit: AP

C.J. Watson is living out a dream, and doing it while fulfilling a self-imposed obligation to be a basketball ambassador.

Visiting Africa had been at the forefront of the mind of the new Nets reserve guard for years, and he wasn't sure exactly when the chance to visit the Motherland would arise. Turns out, after joining the NBA's "Basketball Without Borders" program more than a year ago, Watson is getting that opportunity at the moment -- much to his surprise.

"Actually, I got lucky," Watson told Newsday from Johannesburg, South Africa, "because usually they don't let you come to Africa on your first trip [in the program]. So I was really lucky to be able to get here for the first time."

The weeklong trip has taken Watson from Senegal to Johannesburg, all so the NBA can continue its grassroots effort to foster basketball growth on the large continent. Through outreach, the league also is trying to educate African youth about HIV/AIDS awareness and the importance of excelling in the classroom.

During the basketball clinics, the athletes work hard on fundamentals through a series of exercises and drills, Watson said. He runs a shooting station and helps to teach some of the basics, targeting footwork and the follow- through.

"It's fun," said Watson, who signed with the Nets last month after being waived by the Bulls. "They already know a lot of stuff about basketball. It's just fun learning from an NBA player. Like someone told me, 'There might never be a time when I meet an NBA player ever again in my life.' So to get to actually come here and make these kids' dreams come true, it's just fun to meet with them."

Venturing to Africa is just the latest in a series of important events for Watson. He recently finished his coursework at the University of Tennessee, earning his bachelor's degree in psychology.

It took a lot of discipline, he said, to juggle things and walk that balancing act between books and basketball even since his senior year in 2006.

No matter. He's done, finishing things up with some online courses during the last few summers.

"A lot of hard work and a lot of focus," he said, "a lot of late nights trying to get tests done. It was a struggle. But I'm glad it's over with."

Watson is so proud of his degree that he posted it on Twitter. Unfortunately, he said, his grandmother has passed away and won't be able to see it. A proud mother, though, can lay eyes on it as much as she chooses.

"My mom, she's very happy about it," Watson said. "She used to ask me about it all the time. 'When are you going to go back to school? When are you going to get your degree?' So she doesn't have to ask me that anymore."

Last month, Watson spent five days working out at the renowned rigorous camp of veteran NBA assistant coach Tim Grgurich in Watson's hometown of Las Vegas. He's done it every summer since his junior season but changed his approach this year during the two-a-day, training camp-style practices.

"I tried to go out there and go harder in the scrimmages and drills and learn a lot more from the coaches," Watson said. "I tried to get my one-on-one moves better."

Watson hopes those moves will translate into success in his first season in Brooklyn, a place that's essentially as new to him as Africa.

His excursion to the expansive continent is leaving a lasting impression, making him thankful for some of the simple things we get to enjoy in the United States.

"The two worlds are very different in every aspect," Watson said. "I was telling one of my friends we have our 'hoods, but over here it's worse than the 'hood to me. But we are very blessed just to be an American, and to have the opportunities that we do have because a lot of kids don't get those same opportunities."

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