MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Over the summer, West Virginia University’s Brandon Watkins was forced with a difficult decision. He had to decide to pursue a basketball career with the Mountaineers or walk away from the game.
“He had a little vacation this summer,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “It was one of those, you need to decide if this is what you really want to do. It’s an amazing thing. Guys think they’re tired of it until they don’t have it and then all of a sudden they don’t have it. You start to appreciate what you had a lot more. It’s not basketball, it is basketball but it’s the commodity. It’s the friendships that you develop.
“I told him the other day, I told the seniors the other day, I remember like it was yesterday when my career ended and we had to stay in the dorms. I had to stay in Towers for four years in the same room. So you go back to your room and automatically I go back and want to change into your gear and get to the gym. And first couple days I did. Then I’m like what am I doing? I’m done. It hits you like a ton of bricks.”
Huggins and Watkins’ uncle and former Mountaineer Hall of Famer Warren Baker helped the senior see the light.
“I think I did and Uncle Bake did a little bit too,” Huggins said. “There’s just so many things that you miss that you take for granted when you have them. Then when you don’t, you’re sort of a lost soul for a while. So I think he came back with so much greater appreciation for the game and everything that comes with the game.”
And then the light clicked inside of Watkins.
During WVU’s 90-55 win over VMI on Saturday, the 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward picked up his second career double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 10 boards.
So far this season, the senior is getting the job done both offensively and defensively. He is shooting better than 60 percent from the floor.
Watkins’ newfound success isn’t anything new. In fact Huggins believed it was always deep inside of him.
“I think we’ve always thought that Brandon had ability,” he said. “The Marshall game his freshman year, he’s player of the game. The K-State game, we wouldn’t have won without him. He was so active rebounding and blocking shots. I think we all saw glimpses but it seemed like every time Brandon was ready to break out, he had something happen to him.”
As a sophomore, Watkins had his best game of his career against Kansas State but that night he also tore his ACL in his left knee. After a long recovery, he was ready to play last season but fell victim to Mono, which sidelined the junior for the first six games.
Watkins was never able to find his way last season. He scored 14 points and grabbed 24 boards in 26 games.
After several weeks of soul searching the Decatur, Georgia. native found his love for the game again.
“This is my last go around and I want to leave out on a good note,” he said. “I haven’t really been playing as much so I want to leave out with everybody saying he did contribute some stuff even though he went through a lot. That’s my motivation.”
Watkins got back with the team and got back in the gym to work on improving his game.
“Conditioning and shooting, I’ve been shooting the ball well,” Watkins said. “I’m still trying to figure this thing out with my free throws and just running the floor and stuff like that. I’ve just been working on everything I could.”
As his game improved, his confidence rose.
“It’s higher than what it’s been,” the Grady High School alum said. “Just being in the gym working so hard, I feel more comfortable just shooting and stuff and playing.”
All of his hard work has led to trust between Watkins and Huggins that has been missing for three seasons.
“Brandon’s been working his butt off,” redshirt freshman Beetle Bolden said. “He’s been in the gym late nights and early mornings. It’s showing for him finally. Coach Huggs is trusting him. It all comes back to trust with Coach Huggs. He’s seeing Brandon work on his game. It showed for him in the game today.”
Without Devin Williams, Watkins knows that his team needs him.
“I got to step up now so I’ve just been working on my craft and just trying to be a team leader,” he said.
There is still plenty of season left but don’t look for Watkins to let up anytime soon.