From YouTube to Tonawanda
Tony Watson and Rod Middleton’s journey to opening Pro Training Basketball facility
Tony Watson put up shots at Alumni Arena on Tuesday, but this time not as a student or a member of the men’s basketball team. Watson returned to his alma mater to help train the UB men’s basketball program.
Tony Watson played for UB from 2009-13 before playing three seasons overseas. The South Florida native returned to Buffalo and partnered with another UB basketball alum, Rod Middleton, to create the only basketball training facility in Buffalo, Pro Training Basketball in North Tonawanda. Watson took a “leap of faith” opening the facility.
But in a year and a half they’ve already outgrown their current space.
“It all started on YouTube and as I got better at it I felt that I could make a bigger impact, especially in this area in person,” Watson said. “I teamed up with Rod Middleton and we started doing work in churches and at Clark Hall on South Campus. We always had to rely on somebody else for a facility so we found a place we could open up on our own.”
Watson never thought he would become a trainer. At UB, he interned in the UB Athletics marketing department and thought he would go work for an NBA team.
In the middle of his senior year, Watson started to get looks from scouts that would launch his professional career. He fell in love with it while training professionally.
Watson would train a couple kids during the offseason as a way to make some money on the side but when he went away, they still wanted him to help.
So he made videos on YouTube.
Watson uploaded videos of him doing drills but the viewers and commenters weren’t just a couple kids, they were from across the globe.
“They’re saying, ‘Hey can you do a video on this,’” Watson said. “I added Will Regan to the channel who was a former UB player and it just grew and grew.”
The channel, Pro Training Basketball, has amassed over 190,000 subscribers.
Watson and Middleton still run the drills seen on the channel inside their facility today. Most drills are tailor-made to the kids at the facility but there are drills they can go back and use over and over again, Watson said.
This week, they’re holding a camp for boys and girls in grades 3-8.
The converted warehouse features a turf area for explosiveness and agility, a weight room for strength and conditioning and a modified basketball court.
Along with hosting group and private workouts, Pro Training Basketball had five travel teams this year with hopes to expand to more, including a girls travel program.
Watson and Middleton have found their niche in Western New York. High school basketball in WNY has improved in recent years and during this past season, Park and Cardinal O’Hara high schools each made it to the state finals.
Pro Training Basketball has found itself returning to the very gyms it started in to host camps. Their current facility can’t hold the amount of people they are bringing in.
They have used Saint Mathews’ gym, rec centers in Niagara Falls, Sweet Home Middle School and Tapestry Charter School to accommodate everything.
“We’re literally busting at the seams at this facility,” Watson said.
“I would definitely take the leap of faith again, just to see the impact that we've had on so many kids, and it's very rewarding. But we also see how much more we can be doing. We're starting to add other coaches who have the same passion as us. And as we grow, and as we look for bigger opportunities, we should be able to grow and expand what we're doing now.”
Watson and Middleton have prided themselves on their hashtag “ProfectYourGame.” They wear shirts with it displayed and have it painted on the walls in their gym.
Both played professionally and the concept of perfecting their game means a lot to them. Kids who are committed to playing basketball will have to act like players 24 hours a day. They need to eat, sleep and drink the right way in order to compete at a high level.
That mindset came from Watson and Middleton’s head coach at UB, Reggie Witherspoon.
“From that experience I have a lot of stories that I can tell my kids,” Watson said. “Like there are days I didn't want to get up, days when I was sore. There's days where they can make us eat stuff I didn't like, but I did it anyways because I had a goal in mind”
Watson isn’t ready to give up life training and get more involved with coaching. Watson’s father was his coach through high school and he feels it’s in his blood. But he has his fears.
Watson can’t live with the instability of the profession and the toughest part would be relying on 18, 19 or 20-year-olds to do their jobs and be normal college students.
“It’s tough to say I want to go the full coaching route,” Watson said. “You know, risk what we’ve built here and the relationships that we have and established and leave these kids. We’ve laid a foundation here for something and it’s tough to leave.”
Watson and Middleton originally met when they would train together at 6 a.m. in Alumni Arena Watson’s freshman year. Their relationship built up over the years and so did Pro Training Basketball.
When the doors opened, it was all for the city of Buffalo and when their three-year lease is up, they’ll have opened up more doors for Buffalo’s youth to play basketball.
Nathaniel Mendelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NateMendelson