Chris Watts steps in for Montelli
Vito Montelli greeted Chris Watts one more time when the legendary St. Joseph High boys basketball coach announced that he was retiring as Cadet boys basketball coach after 50 years, and that Watts, a former Cadet player and current assistant coach would be the program’s new head coach at a press conference Wednesday at Vazzano’s Four Season’s Restaurant.
Watts remembers two life-altering meetings with Montelli.
“Michael Casey was a teammate on my Elks Pop Warner football team in Milford, and he said I should check out St. Joseph,” Watts said.
“The way it was set up, me and my mom Luwanda had to first meet with the athletic director, and that was Mr. Montelli.
“We sat down for five minutes with this man and he told us that family and academics come first, and that if I do that sports will fall into place.
“I took the test, got into school, and was still thinking football first.
Watts was headed for a football workout when Montelli approached him.
“Coach told me that there was a summer basketball league and that if I was interested that it might be good for me.
“I went out and after one game I was hooked. Basketball was all I wanted to do.”
Watts never joined Casey on some storied Cadet football teams, but he did earn All-State honors after the 1986 and 1987 seasons, and was given the nod as New England Player of the Year as a senior.
After playing for Rick Barnes at Providence College, where the Friars made the NCAA and NIT tournaments his final two years, Watts played professionally overseas.
“Coaching came early for me and it was Coach who opened that door,” he said. “In high school, Coach allowed the players to work his camp with the younger players, and I found that each summer I was looking more and more to seeing how the kids had improved.
“Then, I’d be playing a game and see these elementary school kids in the gym cheering us on. I was hooked.
“When I got back from playing overseas, I called Coach,” Watts said. “He said ‘Why don’t you come give me a hand.’”
Montelli thanked all attending the press conference and then made the coaching change official.
“The worst kept secret in the world is who was going to succeed me,” he said. “One of my concerns the last few years was who was going to take over...stress what I think is important.
“This person I highly respect. He was an outstanding player, went to Providence, where he had a great career, and has been an assistant for two stretches for eight or nine years.
“I feel confident to turn over the reins to a friend of mind and an outstanding coach...Chris Watts.”
Montelli ceremonially gave Watts both a basketball and a hug.
Watts spoke of his love for Montelli and all he’d learned from his mentor.
He wrapped up his talk with these words:
“No one can fill Coach Montelli’s shoes. But I’m here today with new shoes on and I’m ready to take the first step.”