North Carolina had backed off the Paterson Catholic product over the past few months while they focused most of their efforts on landing big men Brian Butch and David Padgett. However, after their top two targets went elsewhere and Sean May went down with an injury, the staff is re-evaluating whether it can risk another season with limited impact frontcourt players.
Watkins' father, Darryl Sr., said that his son earned one A, a pair of B's, a C and a D in Spanish last marking period.
There has been no official visit to Chapel Hill set up yet, but that could change once the staff receives Watkins' academic transcript, which was expected to occur any day now.
A source close to the situation said that Watkins chances of qualifying are much better than many have speculated.
"His SAT's are within striking distance," the source said. "I would imagine that if he does what he's supposed to do, he will have a very good chance to be eligible."
Watkins is less than 100 points away from a qualifying test score, but it's been his play on the court that has been just as important as his work in the classroom.
"He's been terrific so far this year," the source added. "He's more active, he plays with more enthusiasm and he's gotten significantly bigger. He's got a pro body, he's a pro athlete and he's got pro length."
The UNC staff has seen Watkins play on at least three occasions already this season and has come away impressed with his progress.
However, Watkins still needs to work on the mental part of the game and play hard for an entire game. He's got all the tools to come in right away and make an impact at the ACC level, but he may need the right environment to do so.
The most difficult thing for the Tar Heels may be to lure Watkins away from the northeast.
Watkins' best friend is his high school teammate, Marquise Webb, who is headed to Rutgers next season. Watkins is also considering Rutgers and they, along with Villanova, appear to be the co-favorites. The one major drawback for Rutgers is that they have already inked 7-3 New York native Shagari Alleyne.
Seton Hall and Pittsburgh also are in the picture, but the Panthers have already signed four frontcourt players from the 2003 Class - seven-foot center Aaron Gray (Emmaus, Pa.), 6-8 small forward Dante Milligan (Trinity-Pawling, N.Y.), 6-10 forward Chris Taft (Xaverian, N.Y.) and 6-10 forward Walter Waters (Detroit, Mich.).
Kentucky has also been mentioned as a possibility, but is remains to be seen how strong the Wildcats level of interest is in Watkins.
The bottom line is that the staff has certainly not ruled out chasing after a big man from the senior class – and while guys like Linas Kleiza and Brandon Bass would be nearly impossible to get, Watkins is one frontcourt player that the Tar Heels might be able to persuade to come to Chapel Hill.