As the only members of the senior class on the Massachusetts women’s basketball team, Jasmine Watson and Dee Montgomery have shared four long years of conversations and memories together. But recently, the usual day-to-day chatter between the two has taken on a new tone.
While the rest of their teammates and coaches will turn the page on the 2012-13 season and begin prepping for next year after UMass’ home finale against Duquesne on Saturday, this is the end of the road for Watson and Montgomery.
And though the feeling is unfamiliar, the two have had each other to make the process easier.
“We joke a lot about it, because it’s so unreal to us that we’re seniors, let alone that we have two games left,” Watson said. “I think it won’t even hit us until our parents are here this week, and some of our old teammates might show up.
“I think then it’ll sink in, but it’ll probably really hit us when we don’t have to get up for workouts and stuff, and it’ll just be me and (Dee) by ourselves,” she said.
As the Minutewomen’s longest tenured residents – longer, even, than any of the team’s coaching staff, which arrived at the start of the 2010-11 season – the departure of Watson and Montgomery will mark the end of an era for UMass. Gone will be the team’s last remaining connection to the years of former Minutewomen coach Marnie Dacko, who led the team from 2002-10.
Current UMass coach Sharon Dawley recognized the kind of influential players and leaders her team is losing.
“I think they’ve made a huge impression on the kids,” she said. “They’ve been great friends (and) older sisters to the freshmen, so I think they’ll be missed in that regard.”
Individually, Dawley was just as effusive in her praise of her two seniors, saying, “Jas will obviously be remembered – a 1,000-point scorer is a 1,000-point scorer. You don’t come by that very often, so she’ll go down as someone who had a phenomenal career.”
Added Dawley about Montgomery, “Dee, I think, will be remember more as a great teammate, great captain, great spirit. She brought a lot to the table, really, all those intangibles.”
Though the transition away from the game will be strange for Watson and Montgomery, the shift in the team’s landscape will be just as jarring for the returning Minutewomen.
“It’s a process that, I think, as coaches, we’re more used to because we’ve been through this quite a few times,” Dawley said. “But for the young kids, it’ll be a drastic difference when they go to work and those two aren’t there.”
Part of that transition will be filling the leadership void created by the outgoing pair of players, who served with redshirt junior Kiara Bomben as captains for UMass this season. Watson, however, believed the team will be left in good hands.
“I think people can sense that it’s time for somebody to step up because we’ve been doing it for so long,” she said. “I think some people are really excited to do it. And, sometimes (with) leadership, you don’t get to choose it, it just chooses you. I know there’s girls on the team that could just easily step up to the role and get it done.”
But come Saturday, all eyes and thoughts will be on Watson and Montgomery. Dawley didn’t hesitate in saying the final stretch of the season has been played with the senior duo in mind.
“The last two games are definitely for them,” she said. “As you get closer to their last (game), you just wanna make sure they’re having a good time – that we send them out on a good note, regardless of the result.”
Though victories have been difficult to come by over the past four years, the Mullins Center has served as a comforting home for Watson and Montgomery through thick and thin. Both players were grateful that their respective careers will come to an end on the familiar confines of the Jack Leaman court parquet flooring in front of family and friends.
“It means a lot,” Montgomery said. “You start here, and we’re fortunate enough to finish here. My parents came to my first game, and my parents are gonna be at my last game. It’s just a great feeling.”
Added Watson, “One good thing about me and Dee, is we make good memories out of any bad situation. Even with losses, we try to make some of those (memories) with the team. It’ll mean so much because me and Dee have been going through this ride together. I think we’re both looking forward to that night, and we can just look at each other like ‘We did it, we got through it, we made it together.’”
And going out with a win would make it all the better.
“You know, it’d feel great,” Montgomery said. “If we get these wins, it’d be just a great parting gift and a great way to send out Jas and the rest of the team, leading them into next year.”
Daniel Malone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be reached on Twitter @Daniel_Malone.