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Watson cheers Dunbar’s return to Rupp

March 16, 2016


frankwatsonBY MIKE FIELDS (March 16, 2016)

The last time Paul Laurence Dunbar played in the Sweet Sixteen, in 1997, Frank Watson was the Bulldogs’ coach, having guided the Bulldogs to three state tournaments in five years.

When Dunbar took the Rupp Arena court Wednesday night, Watson was sitting in Section 42, among the Bulldogs’ red-shirted fans, remembering those glory days two decades ago.

“Walking in here, it seems like yesterday,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like 19 years,

“I’m so happy and excited for them that they’ve made it back.”

When Dunbar opened in 1990, Watson was hired to be the school’s first basketball coach and build the program. The Bulldogs, led by Darnell Burton and Cameron Mills, quickly became a state power. They won back-to-back region titles and finished as state runners-up in 1993 (to Marion County) and 1994 (to Fairdale).

“The biggest thing it did for our school was that it jelled the student body,” Watson said. “It was a rallying point. It motivated the kids that we had a team and we had school spirit.”

Dunbar won the region again in ’97, sparked by George Baker and Collier Mills, but it was knocked out of the Sweet Sixteen in the first round by defending state champion Paintsville.