Mike Watkins Making His Return for Penn State
The long-awaited return of Mike Watkins is upon us. Following a series of misdemeanor charges over the past two seasons, it appeared as though Watkins’ time in Happy Valley was coming to an end after an assault charge at a McDonalds in State College, Pennsylvania led to his indefinite suspension.
Nonetheless, after a less than stellar start to the season that has seen Penn State drop to the likes of DePaul and Bradley, Watkins was deemed eligible to play by head coach Patrick Chambers. How interesting of a time to clear Watkins, given Tuesday’s matchup against the 13th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies.
Now, the Pennsylvania State University obviously had its reasons for permitting Watkins to see the court, let alone stay enrolled in school. Nobody is accusing this university of compromising its integrity to win a few basketball games; however, given Watkins’ track record, it is rather peculiar that he was only given a five-game suspension for his detrimental actions at that McDonalds in September.
In addition, why in time for Penn State's matchup with Virginia Tech in the Big Ten-ACC challenge? Is it because the game is on ESPN2, the only game on national television thus far for Penn State?
The hypotheticals could go on for hours, but the reality is this: for coach Pat Chambers to compete in the highly competitive Big Ten, he has had to recruit players who do not fit the typical “Penn State mold” that became famous during former football coach Joe Paterno’s “Grand Experiment”. This is not to say that they are bad people; rather, quite the opposite. In several cases, Pat Chambers has gone into impoverished areas and tried to change people that he and the university believed could become better.
It is no secret that Watkins had a rough upbringing, being one of eight children and having attended two high schools. It is also no secret that Watkins has struggled with mental health problems, to which he has admitted in the wake of his McDonalds incident.
There is no debating that Watkins wants to change. He’s taking the steps towards becoming a better person, admitting his faults and seeking rehabilitation. However, given the recency of his charges, as well as his track record, it seems as though Watkins is being let off the hook just a tad early.
Now, no matter when Watkins would be cleared, there would be scrutiny for the decision. If the school decided to suspend Watkins for the entire season, he could very easily give up and drop out of school, bringing him back to the streets and into a potentially tumultuous lifestyle. Since Coach Chambers and his staff decided it was appropriate to clear Watkins to play, he and the university will face criticism for permitting him to play too early.
As unfair as this is, it is the result of a sticky situation. Penn State is trying to improve Watkins’ life for the better at the opportunity cost of facing negative media attention for bringing him back to the court.
Watkins is an elite talent on the court. That much is certain. He averaged 12.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last season, and that came in only 26.3 minutes per game. His 2.3 blocks per game last season were good for second in the Big Ten, meaning he was an elite defensive presence.
Watkins is an intimidating, physical presence on the court, yet off it, he can seem confused and bewildered. He’s admitted to mental health issues, and if those issues are resolved, then Watkins should be in for a good junior season.
However, if he isn’t ready yet, and the university is rushing him back for the game against the Hokies and the upcoming Big Ten conference play, then the next transgression may be his last as a student at the Pennsylvania State University.
Andrew Destin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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