Entering the 2018-’19 campaign, Penn State basketball looks to be the Big Ten’s biggest enigma with a Grand Canyon-esque gap between its highest ceiling and lowest floor. When the dust settles on next season, you could tell me the Nittany Lions finished anywhere from comfortably in the NCAAs field of 64 to missing postseason play altogether and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest.
That wide gamut of expectations can be attributed to now former first team all-Big Ten guard Tony Carr declaring for the upcoming NBA Draft almost immediately after he led Penn State to its second postseason NIT championship in program history.
Many in State College hadn’t even had a chance to wipe the drool from their salivating mouths before any dreams of national rankings and conference championships were dashed by Carr’s impending departure.
Still, even with Carr moving on from Penn State, the cupboard remains far from empty, as the Lions retain the services of what it hopes to be a three-headed monster in Josh Reaves, Lamar Stevens, and Mike Watkins.
And while the bar may have been lowered and the expectation’s reset, one could still make a fairly compelling case that Pat Chambers is returning enough talent to Happy Valley for the Lions to make a serious run to March Madness.
However, those hopes are undoubtedly hinging on the aforementioned three-headed monster staying on the court. And with Monday’s news of yet another run-in with the law for Watkins, that looks to be anything but a sure bet.
According to information first reported by The Centre Daily Times, the junior forward was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia after police found a metal grinder containing marijuana residue during a search of Watkins’ apartment.
Adding another layer on top of that crap cake is the fact that police were in Watkins’ apartment investigating an entirely different crime - possession of an unregistered firearm. StateCollege.com’s Ben Jones tweeted that no firearm was found, however, and Watkins does have a concealed carry permit.
Obviously at this point details are still scarce, but from a legal standpoint Watkins seems to have dogged a bullet with only a summary charge, according to Centre County Court documentation.
What remains to be seen, however, is what type of disciplinary action Pat Chambers and the university will take towards a student-athlete whose name continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Prior to the start of last season, Watkins was barred from attending the team’s preseason international trip to the Bahamas, in addition to missing the Lions’ first game of the year, for unspecified disciplinary action.
An article posted to 247sports.com uncovered that not only was he held from that trip due to a disorderly conduct summary charge from July of 2017, but that Watkins also was charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conducted in September of 2016.
Both Chambers and the university have shown an incredibly amount of patience with the skilled big man, but Watkins has to be running dangerously low on mea culpa’s.
And while things still need to play out from a legal and university punishment perspective, from a basketball standpoint losing Watkins for any extended period of time could prove the death blow to Penn State’s latest efforts to reach the college hoop’s promise land.
Entering next year without the shooting touch of Carr and graduating 3-point specialist Shep Garner, the Lions would be smart to swerve even harder into its top 20 ranked KemPom defensive efficiency ranking, turning itself into a poor man’s version of the Virginia Cavaliers.
For a team that returns two all-Big Ten Defensive Players in Josh Reaves and Mike Watkins, not to mention a bigger role for spark plug defender Jamari Wheeler, playing that brand of basketball will be a lot easier than you’d think.
However, that all goes out the door should Penn State lose the services of Watkins. Making things even worse would be the damage that does to the Lions already thin front court depth, with only John Harrar (who subbed for an injured Watkins during Penn State’s NIT run) and Satchel Pierce left to contribute minutes at the five.
From a non-basketball perspective, things are made even tough that despite all the baggage, Watkins appears to be a good kid. He’s shown to be a good teammate, cheering on the Lions while rocking a knee brace through last season’s Big Ten and NIT Tournaments, and battled through being declared academically ineligible his freshmen year.
Life has given Watkins plenty of reasons to throw in the towel but despite finding himself in plenty of adversity, some of which he creates for himself, he’s yet to give up.
It’s for those reasons that he’s most likely managed to stay on Penn State’s roster and remains an easy person to root for. But even with that said, this has to be the last of Watkins’ clean slates at Penn State.
Here’s hoping he’s able to get himself straightened out once and for all - not only Penn State basketball, his coaches, his school, and his teammates sake, but more importantly, for himself.