If you’ve stepped foot in the Mosack Athletic Center on Providence Day’s campus any time during the past four years and heard a basketball bouncing, there’s a pretty good chance Chargers’ star guard Jordan Watkins is somewhere in the gym.
Watkins has tirelessly worked on his game for the past four seasons, going from what he described as a skinny eighth-grader who struggled with his ball handling to one of the best players in the state who has earned a scholarship to Davidson College. He’s ranked the 15th best point guard in the state by 247sports.com, but his value to the Chargers is far greater than that.
He’s helped transform them from an 11-win team his sophomore season to a 25-7 team which won their first outright Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association championship since 1999, a span of 13 years.
And, said coach Brian Field, it’s no accident Watkins has been at the forefront of the change, which now has the Chargers ranked No. 1 in the Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s preseason Super 7.
“He’s helped take our program to the next level,” Field said. “We’ve always had guys who have bought in, who worked hard and who wanted to succeed, but Jordan has a little more talent than we’ve had in the past.
“He’s sort of built this culture we’ve tried to create and he’s gone out there and helped us to enact it to the team. The guys follow his lead and he’s just been a real blessing and a real treat to coach.”
The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 18 points per game last season, but said he wants to make his game even more well-rounded – something that should terrify opposing coaches game-planning to defend him. True to form, Watkins isn’t resting with his scholarship in hand and said he’s been working even harder to become an even more complete player.
“I’ve been working on getting stronger, taking better shots and being smarter,” Watkins said. “That’s what’s improved for me – playing stronger and getting tougher. I’ve been attacking a lot more and have been working on my pull-up game and getting to the rim and not just shooting from the outside like I’ve been in the previous years. You’ll see a lot more of me attacking the basket this year.
“I’ve been putting a lot of ball-handling work together and that will help me get in the paint and will correlate with my weightlifting workouts and leg workouts to stay on balance in the paint. It’s all put together to get into the paint and finish.”
With Watkins’ immeasurable presence leading the way, the Chargers are looking to build on what they started last year. And, yes, they’re aware they’re now the team people are chasing, but it’s fine with them – especially with the smooth senior guard’s game ready to take over when times get tough.
“It changes what we do, it makes us more on our heels and we’re not relaxed, but we like that,” Watkins said of the expectations. “Coach (Field) is making practice harder and we like that, too. We’re never satisfied with what we’re doing, so having a target on our chest makes us work that much harder.”
While Watkins will be front and center in everything the Chargers do, he’s not alone in casting the shadow of expectations in their direction. They return four starters and seven of their top eight players from last year’s team.
Guard Chaz Raye will man the point and will look to get Watkins and Devin Mills, a workman-like and consistent wing who averaged 10 points and six rebounds, involved in the offense.
Six-foot-five sophomore Grant Williams (eight points, five rebounds) started last season and will be much improved, and the Chargers’ bench consists of 6-7 sophomore forward Isaac Johnson, 6-5 sophomore forward Josh Howard, 6-5 junior Matthew Lee and guards Michael Lee and Julius Felder, among others.
“This is the best team (we’ve had) by far,” Watkins said. “I feel like it’s more weight off my shoulders because we have more leaders. Devin has been stepping up a lot; Grant is playing smarter and passes a lot better. Chaz has gotten a lot better and quicker and finishing a lot more layups. Really our whole team from the starters to the bench has improved so much over the summer. It’s going to be fun.”
Even if there are rare off games that Watkins and the guards struggle to score – especially early in the season as they try to replace the graduated Bryon Fields, their second-leading scorer a year ago – Watkins said they have a luxury no other team he’s been on at Providence Day has had: four talented and consistent post players.
“It’s different, but now we have the post game that we haven’t had in previous years,” he said. “Our post game is really strong, so it balances the floor now and it’s not all coming from the outside. You can throw it inside and let them work.”
But, ultimately, the Chargers season hinges on Watkins, who has a number of buzzer-beaters, game-winners and memorable performances – like eight 3-pointers in a half against rival Charlotte Latin – already under his belt.
Watkins knows he’s in a leadership role and embraces all that goes with it. So, if it means playing some back up point guard, giving advice to a teammate, leading with his actions or simply putting the ball in the basket – he’s 100 percent committed.
“I know I’m one of the guys people look toward,” he said. “I need to defend the best players on the other team and keep the team up when we get down or when we make a couple of mistakes. I have to keep them up and keep them in games, I think that’s one of my biggest roles. I know I can’t get out of it, because people will look at me and say ‘Oh, Jordan is out of it so I guess we won’t go as hard, either.’ I can’t do that.”
And judging by his track record and future with an education and career at one of the Southeast’s most prestigious and acclaimed school’s, Watkins looks forward to his time in college after his time as a Charger.
“The way things have changed since my freshman year is amazing,” Watkins said of his time at Providence Day. “And the fact that I’ve been a part of that, is hard to put into words. It’s something I’ll never forget about being at this school. It’s offered so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t come here.
“I thought about how fortunate I am (to be going to Davidson). They’re amazing at basketball, you get a (great) education and it’s close to home. That’s rare, it’s everything you need.”
Well, there is one more thing Watkins would like before he leaves Providence Day – a place where he’s meant so much to the success and growth of the basketball team. But in his usual manner, his final wish isn’t all for his own benefit.
“A championship is about all that I want,” he said. “We need to get the first one and keep it rolling for the guys below me. If we can get that first one, they’ll keep it going and keep it rolling after that.”
Field knows, even without a title, there will never be another player to come through his program quite like Watkins.
“He’s one of those kids that you’re kind of embarrassed to talk about because you feel like the person you’re trying to talk to about him thinks you’re full of garbage because they couldn’t imagine that someone is all together such a great kid,” Field said. “Obviously he’s a phenomenal basketball player, but he’s well-mannered, he’s a hard worker, he’s a great leader, he’s a role model on our campus. He’s the total package, he’s been amazing.”