I think it’s a great program to get involved in, and I jumped at the possibility of kind of leading it and being a big part of Nathan’s experience —Utah guard Jake Connor
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah “un-retired” Keith Van Horn’s retired jersey No. 44 on Tuesday. The Utes presented it to a new signee in a ceremony at the Huntsman Basketball Facility. The recipient was Nate Watterson, a 15-year-old from Magna. Watterson has cystic fibrosis, a rare, life-shortening disease that affects approximately 30,000 Americans.
“We brought Van Horn’s jersey out of retirement for Nathan,” said Chris Jones, director of operations for the men’s basketball program. “We figured he was well deserving of it.”
Watterson was joined by his parents, Caren and Ben Watterson, and his grandmother, Cindy Watterson, at the signing of a ceremonial letter of intent. The Utah basketball team was also on hand. They celebrated with pizza after the pomp and circumstance was complete.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Nathan, who added that the Runnin’ Utes are his favorite team and it was “very” exciting to sign with them.
“It was fun,” he noted.
Watterson joined the team through the “Team IMPACT CF Project,” which is sponsored by Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The “Draft Day” event matches children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses with a college sports team to help support emotional, physical and social needs. Watterson and his family will be invited to attend team practices, games, dinners and other activities this season.
Jones credits academic advisor Mary Chris Finnigan for getting the basketball program connected with Team IMPACT. The players then took it from there. Jones said a leadership crew was formed and it all came together.
“I think it’s a great program to get involved in, and I jumped at the possibility of kind of leading it and being a big part of Nathan’s experience,” said junior guard Jake Connor, who added that it was cool to see that Watterson also has red hair.
“You can tell that this is going to be a great experience for him and his family,” Connor continued. “With everything he deals with, I just think being part of our Ute family is going to help him a lot this year.”
Jones agreed, noting the team is “super fortunate” to able to do it.
“We’re really excited about making Nathan and his family a part of our program,” he said.