It’s been a while since Penn State had a big man who was a serious scoring threat. In the four years since Jeff Brooks graduated in 2011, the Nittany Lions haven’t had a forward average double-digit points in a season, with only current stretch-four Brandon Taylor even coming close. Hopefully for fans in Happy Valley, new recruit Mike Watkins can change that soon.
A 4-star recruit from Philadelphia, Watkins is a 6’9", 220 pound forward with serious potential. While the Lions already have a handful of veteran front court players on their roster, Watkins will likely still have the chance to contribute this season. Here’s a look at the big man.
The first thing that stands out about Watkins is his shot-blocking ability. The Philadelphia native is very athletic, which combined with his height and impeccable timing will make him a headache to opposing players around the rim. Take a look at some of his blocks here. Not only is Watkins adept at projecting the rim when players attack the basket, he is also quick enough to close out on jump shooters and chase down guys from behind. His defense doesn’t stop there however. Watkins is a strong on-ball defender who gives maximum effort on that end of the court at all times. He’s also a bulldog who will box out and fight for rebounds, something that Penn State will need with top rebounder Ross Travis having graduated.
Offensively, Watkins still has plenty of room to grow, but his athleticism should make him a force on fast breaks, as will his physicality in the post.
Areas for Improvement
Although he has plenty of potential on the offensive end, Watkins will still need to work on his post-game. In high school, he generally relied on his size and skill to get points, but that won’t work all of the time in the Big Ten. He also needs to develop a jump shot, which up to now has yet to be a major part of his game. These concerns are typical for most big men entering college, so it’s nothing to get too worked up about yet. Still, it is worth noting that Watkins biggest area of improvement is the thing that Penn State desperately needs help in. Watkins’ career obviously won’t be defined just by next season, but it wouldn’t hurt him to put in some serious work on his offensive game before the season starts.
Watkins is the most talented big man Penn State has gotten in years and while he’s a huge part of the team’s future, it’s hard to tell how much impact he’ll have next season. The Nittany Lions have a deep front court with seniors Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack and Taylor, along with sophomore Julian Moore all returning. Watkins has more potential than all of them, but his biggest strengths (defense and shot-blocking) happen to be the forte of the 7’1" Dickerson. That doesn’t mean that Pat Chambers won’t be able to find a role for him however. Watkins’ energy and athleticism should at the very least help him carve out a niche as a defender/rebounder off the bench and it wouldn’t be surprising if he earns a starting spot if someone like Jack doesn’t show improvement. But next season will only be the beginning for him. If he lives up to his billing, Watkins will give Penn State fans the big man they’ve desired for a long time.