Sometimes Johnathan Watt and Kevin Barry answer questions the same way and at the exact same time. It’s the telepathy that comes from a friendship—or brotherhood really—that has been flourishing since they met as 5-year-olds at Tommie Barfield Elementary.
That telepathy comes in handy on the basketball court, where Watt and Barry have led Marco Island Academy to a 5-2 start.
“We want to have our best record ever,” Johnathan Watt said. “Last year, we tied MIA’s best season ever. We were 16-7. I don’t want to lose another game this season.”
“I think that’s very feasible too,” Kevin Barry agreed, “the way we’ve been progressing.”
“We’re laser-focused right now,” Watt said.
MIA’s dynamic duo are laser–focused on and off of the court. Though they both say they’re not competitive with each other—that there’s no alpha dog in their relationship—they agree that they push each other to be the best they can be. They are tied as the top academicians in their class.
“We’re tied for first,” they say in unison.
“We’ve never been super competitive with each other about grades or anything,” Watt said. “We didn’t have a plan to be tied for first or to be first or second. We took a lot of the same classes when we were younger. We just push each other to be better. When I hear about something he does, I’m excited for him. When he hears about something I do, he’s excited for me. We both just push each other, but in a healthy way.”
“We have different college interests,” Barry said. “We’ll check up on each other, to make sure we’re getting the high as we’ve got to keep that tie going.”
They both remember meeting for the first time in kindergarten. Their bond was immediate.
“Kindergarten,” Barry and Watt say at the exact same time.
“The first day of kindergarten,” Watt reiterated, “we kind of talked. Figured out we both liked the same stuff, and we’ve been friends ever since.”
“That year, we started playing basketball together,” Barry remembers. “The Optimist League they used to have over at Mackle Park. Johnny’s dad was the coach; we were on the same team. Since we were kindergarteners we’ve been on the same team.”
“We hit it off pretty much immediately,” Watt said.
When they showed up for practice during their first season at MIA, they had a surprise.
“When we showed up for tryouts our freshman year,” Barry said, “there were six people: me, Johnny, Kyler Howard and his brother Brendan, this lineman we had on the football team, he was like 6’5”, 350 pounds, his name was Rolph Tanis. And we had Dom Moller.”
“It was a rebuilding year,” Watt said. “We had to get a few more people to play so we could compete in games and give everybody a little rest once in a while.”
“We’ve always been confident, knowing we were building a program,” Barry said. “It was only a matter of time till we saw that level of success coming through.”
“Definitely,” Watt said, “we’ve been playing together for 12-13 years now. We’ve been playing with Kyler and Dom probably 7 years. We knew once we got a little bit older, a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, a little bit smarter, we were going to be good.”
One constant in their life has been the brick-and-mortar school that now dwarfs the aging trailers that currently comprise Marco Island Academy. Neither Watt nor Barry could have imagined the fabulous new campus that will open the year after they graduate.
“Our parents became friends right away, too,” Barry said. “We were in first grade when talks of the new school started coming up. They got involved in that and it became their mission.”
“I didn’t really grasp how large the project was going to be,” Watt said. “I remember back in the day we were at the Esplanade; we had rented out a place. We were selling jewelry. Me and Kevin would spend a solid three days a week in a small area where we were selling stuff to try to make money for the school.”
“All of these adult role models were telling us how much dedication it would take,” Barry recalls. “So, we just started trying to help in any way we could. We were doing the 5K fundraisers over at the Esplanade. Johnny’s sister and her friends were working on a lemonade stand just trying to get all the money that we could.”
“I really couldn’t have imagined that we would have that going up right now,” Watt said, gesturing toward the beautiful state-of-the-art school building. “We were just little, so I definitely didn’t understand how large of a project this was going to be. But it has definitely been fun over our years here, to grow up with it.”
“It’s always been a dream,” Barry said, “then it comes to fruition and you go, ‘Wow! Okay, it’s here.’”
“I look at that thing and I think, ’That’s not real,’” Watt said. “‘That’s not going up right now. We’re in trailers now. That’s not our school. This is our school.'”
Watt and Barry always believed there would be a new school. They just never dared to imagine how big and beautiful the new campus would someday be.
“I kinda always believed it was going to happen,” Watt said, “but that was probably because I didn’t know any better. I was just young and I heard our parents were working on a school. So, I thought, ‘Oh, sweet, so we’re going to have a school when we get older.’ If I was able to grasp how large a project it was going to be, I probably would have had some doubts. I’m really proud of our parents and everybody who’s worked on this school to get it where it is today.”
“There were a lot of points where we would go to the school board meetings and they would tell us no over and over again,” Barry said. “We’d go out of there discouraged, but our parents would look at us and say, ‘It’s okay, we’re fine. We’re going to go again and try to get those permits, those contracts set up so we can get that school for you guys.’ And it paid off; that perseverance.”
Watt and Barry literally grew up with their parents’ dream. Their parents’ imprint on their children is not lost on the teenagers.
“In first grade, second grade, throughout elementary school, we’d always be telling people, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s going to be a school coming up. We’re going to have a high school coming,’ Barry said. “Everybody would be like, ‘What are you talking about? You guys are crazy.’”
“Even in middle school,” Barry said, “Everyone was saying, ‘I’m going to Lely.’”
“When it hit me that we’re actually going to be going to a school that our parents really made out of nothing, was when my sister had her first day, her freshman year,” Watt said. “She went there and came back and told me all about it. I was like, ’That’s awesome. I want to go there.’ I had just moved from elementary school to middle school. I thought that transition was so cool. When my sister told me about the high school, I was ready for it.”
Running concurrently with their dreams of a new high school was the dream of developing a credible basketball program at the academy.
“The funny thing is,” Barry said, “our coaches have always been our dads. From kindergarten through 12th grade. Either an assistant coach or head coach.”
“We’ve always had good chemistry, me and Kevin personally,” Watt said, “because we’ve played with each other so long. But it’s kind of cool, as we’ve gone on, we’ve kind of picked up other people along the way. We got Kyler Howard and Dom Moller, who we met in middle school. We developed chemistry with them.”
“Then we added Joe Reisinger and Quintin Fitton and those guys,” Barry added. “And Tony Castillo.”
“Our entire team just has really good chemistry right now,” Watt said. “It’s something that started way back in the day and has continued to now.”
“I feel there are a lot of good prep schools that have kids that transfer in,” Barry said. “We’ve always had the same guys. So, when you look in the eyes of a player, you know what he’s going to do.”
“That’s valuable to a team for sure,” Watt said. “We’re a little bit older, a little bit smarter now. We’re more confident in our abilities. A lot of the guys who were sophomores last year are juniors now.”
“I think the number one thing that has changed this year,” Barry said, “is the calmness on the court. Last year, the guys were still young. Even us, we were having some trouble when we played bigger schools. Now we have that confidence. We know how to stay calm on the court.”
“It’s just another year of experience,” Watt agreed, “another year of us all coming together.”
COVID-19 could have thrown the MIA basketball program a curveball. If it did, however, the duo feels like their team has hit it out of the park.
“It’s kind of crazy to think of everything that’s happened because of COVID,” Watt said. “There was a point in time where I hadn’t seen anybody outside of my family for two-and-a-half months. We started doing cross country again. I was just able to go to cross country then come back home immediately. Over the summer, we started playing basketball a little bit. You could tell that everybody had worked over the break we had.”
“I was really proud of that,” Barry said. “When we came back, I thought everyone was going to be super rusty, but everybody had been in their house doing pushups, lifting weights, going to the park shooting. We came back and we weren’t just picking up where we left off, we were picking up at a higher level.”
“It was awesome,” Watt said. “We were only playing once, maybe twice a week over the summer. We weren’t allowed to get to the gym because of all the restrictions of COVID. So we got whatever time we could, then everything else we had to do ourselves.”
“What I think back of over the lockdown,” Barry said, “is how lucky we all were to be able to either get together at Mackle Park, or over the summer we were able to get in the gym and scrimmage. I’m really thankful for the amount of precaution that the coaches took to keep everyone safe—and to this day, nobody has gotten it, thankfully.”
“That is something I’m very thankful for, too,” Watt said. “It would have been a lot easier to say, ‘We’re not going to have practice over the summer. We’re just going to wait till the season starts.’ There was a lot of sacrifices that was made.”
“I felt like it really paid off,” Barry said, “it definitely paid off.”
“We’d get together and just play a little bit,” Watt recalled. “If we saw people that we didn’t know, we would have to be more cautious about using the same ball. Because we wanted to stay safe. It was definitely a struggle, but all the work we put in all paid off.”
“I feel like the competition inside the team was more fierce,” Barry said. “The competition for those top spots pushed everybody to a higher level.”
“Over the summer, Joe Reisinger transformed his body,” Watt said, “He looks so good. He looks like a hooper. They were all pushing each other. Whenever the seniors couldn’t make it, they still went to Mackle Park and pushed each other every day. Joey, Tony, Quintin, Nick Smithem, Lucas Hodgson, they’re all pushing each other to get better every day.”
“This is something I’ve talked to my dad about,” Watt said. “We pushed ourselves, and we’ve gotten a lot better. But I still don’t think we’ve reached our potential as a team.”
“I agree with that,” Barry said. “I think we’ve become like coaches on the court. We have to direct traffic on the court. Kyler helps out with that a lot, too. I think there are a lot of times where we’ve had to just almost lead by example for our team. There have been a lot of times in games where the other team goes on a big run and we could crumble and fall apart as a team. Then one of us would really have to take over, make a good assist, make a good shot, or get a steal.”
One such time happened when the Rays trailed Oasis at halftime, and the game looked like it might be getting away from them. Dom Moller, a 1,000-point scorer who graduated last year, was invited into the locker room at halftime. He gave the team a pep talk.
“Dom Moller came to that game,” Barry said. “He said, ‘It’s always the third quarter, guys. You’ve gotta go hard in the third quarter.’ He was going crazy in the locker room at halftime. We brought him in. We outscored ‘em in the third quarter. That’s what turned around the game.”
“We’re better at making adjustments at mid-game,” Watt said, “our extra year of experience. Our ability to understand what our coach is telling us to do—then to implement that immediately. It’s something that’s huge for a team. It’s something that I think we have figured out.”
“The guys are getting good at switching defense at the snap of your fingers,” Barry said.
“We just find whichever one of us is open,” Watt said. “Most of the time people will either target Kevin or target me. Whenever that happens, we just look for whichever one of us is open or whichever one of our teammates is open.”
“It’s not about the stats or anything, it’s strictly about getting a win on our record. It’s strictly about the win,” Barry said.
Some of the underclassmen have had to step up with the loss of Moller to graduation.
“Dom was a big scorer every night,” Watt said. “He was somebody we could rely on for at least 15 points. His scoring is kind of distributed among everybody. We have Joe, Tony and Quintin all playing big minutes. Tony… I see him getting his confidence, and he’s crazy on defense. He’s our best on-ball defender.
“We oftentimes will put Tony on the best player on the other team just to lock ‘em up.”
“You probably can’t tell it’s the best player on the other team because he’s lockin’ him up. Tony’s such a good shooter,” Barry said with a laugh. “He’ll light you up. Tony brings defense and three-point shooting. He’s just really energetic on the court.”
“Joe is an amazing rebounder and he’s a good defender, too. He uplifts us,” Watt said.
“Sometimes my dad will say, ‘Joe, calm down, Joe.” Barry laughed again.
“Quintin will come in off the bench and provide a score or an assist,” Watt said. “He has points in time where he just plays ridiculous defense as well. We have a bright future for sure when we leave. It’s a fun time to be on the team right now.”
Watt and Barry won’t get to play in the state-of-the-art gymnasium that will make its debut when it hosts the Class of 2021 graduation ceremonies in the spring. However, a recent announcement guarantees their names will always be associated with the gym they helped build.
Local philanthropist Bill Young, who has been very generous to Marco Island Academy, has made sure people will remember Watt and Barry, who Young has been impressed with as he’s watched them grow up. He’s so impressed that he took advantage of a Naming Opportunity at the new school, naming the boys’ locker room in the new gymnasium after Watt and Barry. Pretty heady stuff for a couple of 17-year-olds.
“I have known Johnathan and Kevin for years,” Bill Young said. “I have enjoyed watching them grow and mature into the fine young men that they are today. I dedicated a Naming Opportunity to honor their outstanding academic and athletic leadership at MIA.”
“I heard about that,” Barry said with an incredulous chuckle. “I was like, ‘Aw come on, Bill, you didn’t have to do that!’ That’s great. Very generous.”
They both laugh and shake their heads in unison when they contemplate the enormity of Young’s gift.
“We were very, very excited when we heard that,” Watt said. “It’s just something that’s going to be there forever. It’s really cool to have our names there. I’m excited for that.”
“I thought they were going to name it after him,” Barry said. “He said, ‘No, I’m giving it to you guys!’”
“He’s awesome,” Watt said.
Still, it’s got to be disappointing knowing you’re not going to get to play in the gym you’ve dreamt about, literally, your whole young life? Not surprisingly, the pair see the big picture.
“The summer’s always going to be a thing,” Barry said, “or coming back just to see the guys. As long as our younger siblings or our friends are able to play in the gym, I’m not really that disappointed about it, really. I’d love to play in the gym, but as long as they get to have it, I’m fine with it.”
“Obviously,” Watt said, “I would have loved to have been able to play in that thing. It’s going to be awesome. I’m just honestly glad it’s getting done. It’s been such a huge part of our lives. Just like talking about the school. Talking about the gym. I probably know more about construction than I should. It’s just so exciting to see it going up. I just know that my little brother, I’ll get to see his games. I’ll be coming back all the time. I’m just going to enjoy knowing that we were part of the foundation of building that.”
As they continue to blaze trails during their senior years of high school, the duo realize they will most likely go in different directions for college. Barry has applied to 20 colleges. Watt has his focus on one particular university in Florida.
“I’m not sure where I’m going to go yet,” Barry said. “The decisions for most of my colleges come back April 1. Most of them are out of state. You have to make your decision by May 1. I’m keeping my options open. We’ll see what happens.”
“I’ve been pretty set on going to the University of Florida for a couple of years now,” Watt said. “My sister goes there. I just really like the campus. I like the energy there. I like everything about it. That’s going to be my number one option right now. I’m applying to a couple of other schools; I’m applying to Duke and UNC. I’m going to apply to the University of Pennsylvania and FSU and a couple of others. I’m a Gator right now.”
“With Johnny’s test scores, he’s 100% getting into the University of Florida,” Barry said.
“My test scores aren’t as good as his.” Watt smiled. “But they’re alright.”
“You can never fully tell, sometimes for a lot of these schools, it’s like a lottery,” Barry reasons. “Especially the more selective ones. So, you can never tell for sure, I guess. A lot of what I’ve heard is they’re trying to build a student body with as many different experiences as possible. I’m applying to all of the Ivy League schools. Three in California, Stanford, Pomona and Claremont McKenna College. Emery University. I’m doing Rollins College, Miami and UF. I have no favorites. I’m waiting to see what the best possible position is for me.”
“That’s the way he is.” Watt smiles. “He likes to keep his options open. I’ve been his friend for a long time. That’s something I’ve learned about him. It’s a good trait to have, in my opinion. It’s a trait that I’d like to have. I’m pretty quick to commit to things.”
“The thing with Johnny,” Barry said, “he’s got his focus. And when he’s got his focus on, you know he’s going to accomplish it. When he’s talking about UF now, I can already see him in 4 years being the number one student there.”
Another thing Watt and Barry agree on is the profound positive influence of their parents.
“Massive,” Barry said. Watt shakes his head in agreement. “I get called Travis—Watt’s father—from time to time.”
“I would almost completely credit my parents with my personality,” Watt said, “they’ve kind of showed me what it means to be a good person. I try to embody a lot of things they’re telling me to do. I use them as an example and then try to find my own way.”
“The thing with our parents,” Barry said, “they believe that there’s no limit to where you can go academically, athletically, whatever you want to do in life, as long as you put the work in. They’ve always been really big on that—the dedication, the perseverance.”
“We’re definitely very fortunate,” Watt said.
College experiences, possibly at opposite ends of the country, will do little to diminish the friendship and the incredible bond between Watt and Barry.
“I honestly think we’ll stay close,” Watt said, “no matter what.”
“I feel like the friendship we have,” Barry said, “we’re always going to stay close.”
“Even if he goes to Stanford and I go to UF,” Watt said, “and we’re literally across the country from each other, we’ll still…” he seems to trail off. “Sometimes we go a week without talking to each other. We come back and it’s like nothing happened. We’re almost like brothers I would say.”