Utah basketball: 'Jiggy' Watkins finishes goal, not in basketball, but in life
"It's one of those situations where it just wasn't very much fun, dismissing him from the team," Krystkowiak said. "Then all you can do from that point is keep our fingers crossed that he stays with it and follows through with what really — at the end of the day — is the most important part of the equation and that is getting his degree."
Krystkowiak gives much of the credit to Randy Barruth, Utah basketball's director of player development and academic liason, for helping make that happen. He monitored the situation and facilitated Watkins' needs.
Watkins had a lot of other support as well.
"The people here were great to me. The fans were great to me. I've had good people behind me supporting," Watkins said. "Dr. Hill was tremendous to me, treating me well like one of his kids. I had a lot of support so it wasn't hard for me to make that decision to stay in school. It was easy."
Watkins' teammates were also there for him. He said their relationship stayed strong even though he was no longer on the court with them. They continued to hang out together.
"They understood that coach had to make that decision," Watkins said, while noting that his basketball family kept everything positive as he progressed toward graduation.
There were difficult times, however. Watkins remembers how he felt during Utah's first game without him — a loss at home to Arizona.
"It was sad because that was like my family playing out there without me and I had let them down," Watkins said. "It was really hard that day. I just had to get used to it and focus on school."
As hard as his dismissal was to accept, Watkins believes that everything happens for a reason.
"I had to live with it and it helped me grow as a young man," Watkins said. "So I wish the best of luck to them. I had a great two years out here at Utah."
Although his basketball career came to a premature end, Watkins wasn't about to waste getting a good education. Basketball didn't work out, he explained, but he still had school and he was determined to finish it.
"I know that a lot of people probably doubted me, saying that I would go home. But that's not my character. I'm not going to give up. I don't give up," Watkins said. "So for me to go home and not finish school would be foolish. I did three years before this, why not finish the last one?"
As his mother quickly discovered, there was never any doubt about it.
"My mother was a big help," Watkins said. "As soon as I found out I got kicked off the team I called her, told her, and she kept everything cool with me — helped me out and kept the support coming."
What transpired has made Lisa Watkins extremely proud of her son.
"I told him this is going to show your character. This is going to show your manhood. This is going to show who you are, who you represent," she said of their initial conversation after the dismissal. "You stay there and you get your degree."
Jiggy's response made it clear that her son had evolved into a man.
"He said: 'Ma, you didn't have to tell me that. I'm going to get my degree. I'm going to stay here and I'm going to get my degree," Lisa recalled. "When he said those words to me, it felt like a spear went through my heart. I was like, that's my boy."
Just thinking about it, she continued, brings tears to her eyes.
"I'm so proud that he has stayed. I'm so proud because he didn't give up and made everybody proud. I can't even describe the feeling."
Before walking the aisle for graduation, Jiggy acknowledged how special it was to be there.
"Basketball can be taken away from you any day but the degree can't," he said. "I'm glad I've got my degree right now."
Mom, understandably, was beaming.
"He's good, he's talented and he's my son," she said. "I'm proud of that."
Armed with his degree, Watkins plans to resume his basketball career next season — most likely overseas.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @DirkFacer
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