Niagara Gazette — As a sophomore at Niagara Falls High School, Vinzell Watkins decided he’d try out for the school’s basketball team, traditionally one of the top teams in New York State.
He’d never played organized basketball before, certainly not in the school’s modified, junior varsity or varsity programs, nor had he really been on the radar of anyone with the team.
That’s why it was surprising when the quiet, lengthy kid no one knew about made the junior varsity team and started dominating his competition, averaging 25 points per game before being called up to the varsity squad.
This year, it comes as no surprise to Wolverines coach Sal Constantino that Watkins is playing a lot — and thriving — in his first full season with the varsity team.
“Vinzell really kind of came out of nowhere,” Constantino said. “Last year was his first year of organized basketball, and he dominated the JV level. He’s quick, athletic and a good defender, and he really fits the mold of what we’re trying to do here.”
Watkins, who typically comes off the bench, stood out, particularly defensively, in the Wolverines’ season opening win over Rochester’s Bishop Kearney, teaming up with senior point guard J.J. Wilkins to pressure ball carriers and force turnovers.
Now, Wilkins is out with a sprained knee, thrusting the 6-foot-1 Watkins into the starting lineup. The junior has averaged 16 points per game this season, which is tied for the team lead with senior Jermaine Crumpton, who’s committed to go to Division I Canisius College next season.
Constantino said the comparisons between Watkins and the 6-foot-5 Crumpton go farther than numbers.
“Vinzell is a kid who I look at a year from now,” Constantino said. “I think he’s that inside-outside guy that Jermaine is right now. He goes from defense to offense quickly and gets a lot of easy shots. One of the other nice things about him is that he and Jermaine can both play wing or post, and when they’re out there together it causes a lot of problems.