Watkins Ready to Continue Contributing

In the days leading up to West Virginia's home matchup against Gonzaga last week, Bob Huggins didn't see what he wanted out of one of his freshmen.

And because of that, Brandon Watkins did not play at all in WVU's 80-76 loss to the Bulldogs at the Coliseum. It was the first game Watkins didn't play in as a Mountaineer and came just five days after the freshman played just two minutes in a loss to Missouri.

The message was sent. If Watkins wasn't going to give it his all, he wasn't going to play.

"He wasn't playing very well and wasn't into it very much, so I didn't play him," Huggins said. "I told him, 'I'm not going to play you until you kind of get with it.' Then he turns around and has two really good days of practice."

That was all the motivation Watkins would need to help turn things around. The Decatur, Ga., native admitted following West Virginia's victory against Marshall in the Capital Classic that he took his benching hard, and didn't want it to happen again.

"I was down that night. I really thought about it, talked to Coach (Erik) Martin about it," Watkins said. "I made sure I was focused and knew what I was doing and trying to give a lot of effort. I knew I would play if I gave a lot of effort in practice."

He finally got his chance to get back in the game in the first half against the Herd, when he checked in with 13:21 to play in the half. With Marshall ahead by seven and off to a fast start, the Mountaineers inserted Watkins into the frontcourt in hopes that he would provide a spark that they were struggling to get with junior Kevin Noreen and freshman Devin Williams in the early minutes.

Watkins came in, got a quick foul and went back to the bench a few minutes later.

Then, with a little more than six minutes left in the half, Watkins checked in again. This time, things went a little differently.

He pulled down four rebounds and hit a jumper within the next two minutes as WVU made a late push to end the half.

"They called on me, so I knew I had to be ready," Watkins said. "I needed to be focused, I need to know what I need to do and get rebounds and play defense."

Those have been the two things Watkins has been able to pride himself on early in his Mountaineer career. But in last weekend's 74-64 win against Marshall, he added some offense to his repertoire.

Watkins finished the game with 12 points and 11 rebounds, his first career double-double, and earned Most Valuable Player for his performance in the game.

It was an honor that was a surprise to Watkins, who was just 72 hours separated from a game in which he didn't see the floor at all.

"I thought they were going to give it to Juwan or somebody other than me," he said. "I thought I was just doing what I was supposed to do."

Nonetheless, it was an honor that was special to the freshman. A reminder of the work that had gone into fixing the problems that kept him relegated to the end of the bench in the last few games.

"As many tournaments as I've played in (throughout high school), I was never MVP for anything," Watkins said. "But it's just one game, so you've got to move on, put this in the past."

And now, as the Mountaineers prepare for Purdue on Sunday, Watkins is ready to build off that game and continue to see his role grow.

He knows that his role is going to be to bring some toughness and his rebounding ability whenever he's out there, but it's going to be a work in progress to get to where he knows he can be as an all-around player.

"They always tell me to just keep working on my low-post game and be active on the boards, play good defense," he said. "The offense will come. We've got great guards, they love to dish it off, so I just have to be ready for when they come down the lane."

That's not saying he can't use those strengths he's already built up to turn into some offensive production. Against Marshall, Watkins grabbed three offensive rebounds that helped give the Mountaineers some second-chance points.

Watkins is totally fine being the guy waiting down low for someone else to miss, if that's what he's called on to do.

"That has to be my role until I really get my offensive game," Watkins said. "Right now, I'm still on a high school level offensively. I'm still doing moves that I could get away with in high school, but not college. I'm still learning and working hard on it.

"Eventually it'll come, but for now, I guess I'm just a garbage man."

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