Shep Garner and his teammates knew what to expect when Mike Watkins took the court with them this season.
They saw the Penn State big man’s skillset and athleticism at practice during his redshirt year. He blocked shots, rebounded, ran the floor and finished inside. They spoke excitedly about the 6-foot-9 forward before the season, as did Penn State coach Patrick Chambers.
Watkins has shown why in the team’s first 12 games.
After his latest performance, a 15-point, 13-rebound effort in a win over St. John’s, Watkins was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday.
“That’s the same Mike that we saw last year, and that’s why everybody was just so ecstatic to see him at practice just to see what he can do,” Garner said Monday at the team’s media availability.
Watkins became the first Nittany Lions player to receive the weekly award for freshman, which started in 2010-11. He is averaging 10.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game going into Penn State’s matchup with Morgan State at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
On Sunday against the Red Storm, he recorded three blocks and four assists to go with his third double-double of the season.
Still, Chambers sees little details where Watkins can improve like staying in a defensive stance and doing a better job boxing out.
“Even though he’s a machine on the glass, that’s just God-given talent,” Chambers said. “He could probably get four more if he would just box out every now and then.”
The coach said Watkins can establish better position on the offensive end.
And he needs to be ready to catch and finish when his teammates find him.
“I want to see simple better,” Chambers said.