Watkins Proves Worth in Practice, on Court - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Watkins Proves Worth in Practice, on Court

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MORGANTOWN -

The ups and downs of a college basketball season can span the entirety of the schedule or sometimes get crammed into one week.

For Brandon Watkins, the low point came first at the start of the week when his head coach made the decision that he was not preparing with the effort necessary to warrant a place in the rotation against a top 20 team.

Bob Huggins sat the freshman forward against Gonzaga and with a 7-foot-1 beast battling his way to 19 points and 13 rebounds, Watkins was unable to do a single thing to help his teammates in the post.

"On that night, I was down," said Watkins. "That Wednesday, really thought about it, talked to Coach [Erik] Martin about it. Then the next two practices that we had, I made sure I was focused and I knew what I was doing and then I was trying to give a lot of effort. I knew I would play if I gave a lot of effort in practice."

It wasn't only the effort. Watkins is still struggling with learning his assignments and executing them in the gym against other Mountaineers. His lack of understanding early in his career could make him a liability, so he sat.

"He wasn't playing very well and wasn't into it very much, so I didn't play him," Huggins said of the Gonzaga game, which WVU lost 80-76. "I told him, ‘I'm not going to play you until you kind of get with it,' and he turns around and has two really good days of practice."

So with Devin Williams and Kevin Noreen struggling to make a difference early in the Capital Classic, Huggins inserted Watkins into the lineup less than seven minutes in.

The Mountaineers trailed by seven and needed a spark. The freshman's first stat of the game, though, was a foul on a made basket. His initial appearance against Marshall lasted just two minutes of game time before there was a tug on his short leash and he sat back on the bench.

It wouldn't be his only opportunity.

The next time Huggins put Watkins on the court, he reeled in four-straight rebounds on the defensive end and put in a jumper of his own. He then pointed up. Watkins said after the game that he was pointing for his late Uncle Norman, a big Mountaineers fan.

Those would be his stats for the half: two points and four boards in eight minutes. After giving the team a push in the first 20 minutes, Huggins did not wait to get Watkins on the court for the final 20. He got the second half start and took advantage of the confidence his coaches showed in him.

"They called on me, so I've got to be ready," said Watkins. "From now on this season, I need to be focused, I need to know what I need to do, I need to continue to get rebounds and I need to play defense."

His 25 minutes logged against the Thundering Herd were nearly double his season high after putting in 18 in the opener. His 12 points were a season-best, as were the 11 rebounds he grabbed. The first double double of his career earned Watkins the game's recognition as Most Outstanding Player.

"It was pretty cool," Watkins said of the honor. "As many tournaments as I've played, I was never MVP for anything, so I was glad to have it. But it's just one game, so you've got to move on, put this in the past."

Watkins understands that one game does not make a player. It's putting in the hard work each day at practice and studying his craft that will make him more consistent and a bigger part of the rotation.

His teammates are impressed by the player they saw on the court Saturday night.

"I saw a lot of things out of Brandon today that I haven't seen all year," said Juwan Staten. "You kind of see it in spurts, but he hasn't really put them together like he did tonight. He rebounded the ball, he played great defense, changed shots and he scored the ball. He did it all tonight."

Staten admits that Watkins is the focus of constructive criticism in practice as the rest of the Mountaineers try to get him to reach his full potential, which Huggins feels is quite high and nowhere near being tapped.

"He makes a difference around the rim. He scored a little bit around the rim and he changes shots. He's the one guy that we have that changes shots," said the head coach. "When you're getting outrebounded like we have been getting outrebounded, when you don't have somebody who can change things around the rim, they're going to score. He does do that for us."

Watkins acknowledges how far he has come, but also how much work he still has ahead of him. Until he makes those strides, he considers himself a player who can clean up misses and put the ball back in the bucket.

"Right now, I'm still offensively on a high school level. I'm still doing moves that I could get away with in high school and not college," said Watkins. "I'm still learning, working hard on it every day. Eventually it'll come, but as of now, I'm just a garbage man."

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