Sooner or later it was bound to matter.
The young West Virginia men’s basketball team, held together by juniors and sophomores, appears to have grown up.
WVU defeated TCU and Texas Tech earlier this week to begin Big 12 play. Many believe the success is due in large part to freshman forward Brandon Watkins.
“There were a whole lot of people that didn’t think Brandon (Watkins) would ever make it when he first showed up,” said head coach Bob Huggins. “He’s probably made more improvement than anyone on our team. It’s hard for freshmen. (Watkins) changes shots, and he rebounds the ball.”
Watkins, a 6-foot-9 newcomer from Decatur, Ga., played sparingly in November. He played 10 or more minutes in just four of the team’s first nine games.
However, it all changed at the Capital Classic in Charleston, when the Mountaineers needed a spark against Marshall.
The freshman saw a career-high 25 minutes scoring 12 points and adding 11 rebounds in the 74-64 victory.
Since then, Watkins hasn’t looked back.
Watkins has only scored a total of nine points in West Virginia’s past four games, but he continues to earn minutes by effective play in other areas.
Watkins is averaging more than six rebounds and has earned 10 blocks in the last five games.
WVU is 4-1 in those contests.
He played 20 minutes in the 89-86 overtime victory over Texas Tech Monday night.
“Even though (Brandon) has had some success in games, he still doubts himself a little bit,” said junior guard Juwan Staten. “Every time he has some success it takes him in another direction. The more and more he plays and learns that he’s definitely good enough to compete and make a difference in a game, he’ll be better off.”
West Virginia is 2-0 in league play for the first time since the 2009-10 season – the year the team advanced all the way to the Final Four.
The team continues to play game-by-game and has won back-to-back road contests after starting the year 0-2 playing away.
“Knowing we’re on a road trip and need this win, that offs the scale a lot,” said sophomore guard Terry Henderson. “We all had to play hard and play a little bit out of our comfort zone to get this win.”
The Mountaineers return home for the first time since before Christmas on Saturday, when the team hosts No. 11 Oklahoma State.
The Mountaineers will certainly need the services of the young Watkins on defense to contain the Cowboys’ 85.7 points per game average – good for No. 14 in the country.
West Virginia and Oklahoma State tipoff Saturday at 4 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum.