Alumnus becomes assistant men’s basketball coach

By Eddie Garcia

A man who helped NIU accomplish the 10th largest single-season improvement in school history, returns as the men’s basketball assistant coach.

Brandon Watkins, men’s basketball assistant coach, served as the graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team during the 2013-2014 season, helping the Huskies to the 10-win improvement.

Watkins was hired Aug. 30 after serving one year as head coach of the Morton College Panthers. In his single season with the team, a roster which included two sophomores and 11 freshmen, he led them to a 9-20 overall record.

Watkins said his time as a head coach taught him patience and understanding, as his main goal was to enhance the team’s basketball IQ and work ethic, two ideas he plans to implement in his return to NIU.

“I’ve always liked NIU,” Watkins said. “During my time as a graduate assistant, I got a chance to learn a lot about the community and about the university, so it was a no-brainer for me when the opportunity arose to come back and rejoin the Huskie family.”

Watkins played collegiate basketball at Penn State University, where he helped his team reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in 2001. He earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention during his senior season in 2003 and ranks 13th in the school’s history for career assists.

After his collegiate career, Watkins had the opportunity to play 10 years of professional basketball overseas in France, Estonia, Greece, Germany, Lithuania, Turkey and Russia.

“Having had the ability to play at a high-level of Division one and being able to play professionally, I think that helps me with a little bit of notoriety and maybe a little bit of respect from the guys to know that [I’ve been where they aspire to go],” Watkins said. “I can help them get [to where they want to go] if they are willing to do the work and put in the time.”

Head Coach Mark Montgomery said Watkins understands the culture at NIU and looks forward to his experience and enthusiasm that he will bring to the team.

“We are excited to have Watkins return to NIU,” Montgomery said, according to NIU Media Services. “Being a former Division one player at a high-level and a professional player overseas, [Watkins] brings a wealth of experience that will benefit our student-athletes. I know he will bring great energy and enthusiasm to his job every day.”

One of the main reasons Watkins decided to come back to NIU was because of his prior connection with Montgomery, as he felt comfortable with the program and the direction it is headed.

“[It’s good to come] back into a situation where I know Coach Montgomery, his sets, his offense and how he operates,” Watkins said. “It just kind of fits.”

While he served as the team’s graduate assistant, there were restrictions on what he was able to do with the team. Watkins said he looks forward to being able to vocalize himself on the bench during the games as that is where his passion lies.

One of the main responsibilities as the assistant coach is the recruitment process. Watkins said his main goal is to bring in guys that resonate the same attitude as Montgomery and the staff.

“We are going to bring in guys that are hungry and want to be here, not just athletically, but academically as well,” Watkins said.

His distinct player and coaching background, along with his familiarity with the program, leaves the new assistant coach in position of growth once again in his career.

As the new assistant coach, Watkins said one of his goals for the team is to get better everyday and become one of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference..

“There is no team that leaps above [NIU],” Watkins said. “I believe we are going to really blossom.”

Watkins and the Huskies will begin their season Nov. 10 against the University of Saint Francis Saints at the Convocation Center.