Tyreese Watson and Donovan Rodriguez don’t just play defense for the Bonner-Prendergast High School basketball team.
They also chant it — in rhythm, with hand claps, “Defense ... defense” — on the bench in the final moments of another impressive victory for the Friars.
“Those guys,” Bonner-Prendergast coach Kevin Funston says of his senior captains. “When they’re not in the game, they’re getting water bottles for the guys who are in the game.
“They bring the energy. It makes a coach’s job easy when you have senior leaders who are so unselfish.”
Watson and Rodriguez, a complementary pair of 6-foot-2 guards, have led Bonner-Prendergast to a 12-3 overall record, a 6-2 mark in Philadelphia Catholic League, and the No. 6 spot in The Inquirer’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Top 10.
Watson is a little smoother. Rodriguez is a little stronger. But what they share is an ironclad commitment to playing defense, sharing the basketball, and setting the standard for the Friars.
“We always talk about it,” Rodriguez said Monday. “We take pride in it. We always make sure we lead the way.”
In Monday’s 65-41 win at St. Joseph’s Prep, Rodriguez generated 22 points, four rebounds, and three assists. He muscled in the lane to create openings for himself and opportunities for his teammates.
Battling foul trouble, Watson played less than half of the game and finished with five points, 12 fewer than his season average. But he never forced a shot, never hesitated to make the extra pass when the Friars pushed the pace into open space.
“They are great kids, totally unselfish,” Funston said. “Tyreese has his own style of probing, and Donovan is more like thunder. He’s banging through and trying to create stuff with his body.”
Rodriguez and Watson are four-year varsity players. They were key contributors for strong Bonner-Prendergast teams of the last two seasons.
But those teams were led by 2019 graduates Isaiah Wong, a Miami recruit, and Tariq Ingraham, a Wake Forest recruit, along with 2018 graduate Ajiri Johnson, a Rider recruit.
With those guys off to college, some outsiders expected the Friars to slide into the lower half of the league this season.
“We’ve been talking all year about how no one is going to give us any credit or have any expectations for us to be any good, because for the longest time it was Isaiah Wong or Tariq Ingraham and Ajiri Johnson,” Funston said.
Rodriguez and Watson have embraced the Friars’ underdog status. They have embodied the defense-first mentality of a team without a starter taller than 6-2, a squad that relies on constant ball pressure to disrupt opponents and create opportunities in transition.
“Without defense, you can’t win a game,” said Watson, the younger brother of former Boys’ Latin and Creighton star Maurice Watson. “It’s all about getting stops. We’d rather play defense than offense anyway.”
That approach led the Friars to an overtime victory at Roman Catholic on Jan. 7 and an imposing win at Archbishop Carroll last Friday. Since Dec. 12, the Friars are 10-2, with the losses to No. 1 Neumann Goretti and No. 2 Archbishop Wood.
“Nobody had any faith in us before this year,” Rodriguez said. “Even starting off 6-2 [in the league], nobody has faith in us. We come in with a chip on our shoulder every day.”
Rodriguez said Watson’s greatest strength is his feel for the game and his ability to involve teammates.
“He’s more of a general than me,” Rodriguez said. “It helps me open my game, because he puts me in the right spots, so I can do what I can do, and he can do what he can do.”
Watson said Rodriguez’s strongest attribute is inside his jersey.
“His heart,” Watson said. “His heart and toughness. He’s gritty.”
It’s not unusual to see starters on the bench in the final moments of a comfortable victory, cheering for the reserves.
Rodriguez and Watson took it another step Monday, chanting for the Friars on the floor to play with the same defensive diligence as the squad’s senior leaders.