Utah basketball: Utes suspend leading scorer Josh Watkins
Whatever the future of this year's struggling Utah men's basketball team, it will not, at least for the short term, include Josh "Jiggy" Watkins.
The Utes' leading scorer was suspended indefinitely Monday by first-year coach Larry Krystkowiak after Watkins, the Utes' only healthy senior, arrived late for the team's 7:45 a.m. practice.
"I was put in a predicament that I really didn't have any other choice," Krystkowiak said Monday night on his weekly radio show.
Watkins' mother, Lisa, told The Tribune that coaches told her Watkins' tardiness was the latest in a string of issues, including falling asleep during a class.
Through seven games, Watkins was the Utes' leading scorer, averaging 17.7 points per game. He struggled with turnovers and on defense, but, as the Utes limped to a program-worst 1-6 start, remained their most consistent performer. Krystkowiak did not say when or if Watkins would return, but he will miss, at minimum, the Utes' home game Wednesday against Cal State Fullerton.
"Hopefully Josh takes care of his business and picks up some of the slack that's been dropped," Krystkowiak said, "and we'll evaluate whether he's going to work his way back and join us."
Krystkowiak said it was important to set a tone for the expectations of his players.
"We've got rules, a lot of internal rules," he said, "and being on time is a big part of it and accountability and being our lone senior right now on the roster. I'm certainly not trying to make a scapegoat out of anybody, but the rules are in place."
Watkins was one of just four players to return to the Utes after a 13-18 record in the final year of coach Jim Boylen's tenure. When starting center David Foster was sidelined indefinitely with a foot injury, Watkins remained as the team's undisputed leader. However, he has run into issues early in the season, including returning from the summer break more than 30 pounds overweight. He was also kicked out of practice Nov. 8 for undisclosed reasons.
The Utes will most likely move freshman point guard Kareem Storey into the lineup to account for Watkins' absence, although junior Chris Hines may also slide over from the wing spot to pick up some of the responsibilities. Storey, from Baltimore, averages 19.3 minutes and 3.9 points per game. Perhaps his best performance this season came against San Diego Christian on Nov. 14, when he scored a season-high 10 points to help the Utes secure their only win.
The Utes have lost six games in a row since beating San Diego Christian. Most recently, they suffered an 82-52 defeat Saturday at Fresno State, which was picked to finish seventh in the Western Athletic Conference.
Watkins scored 11 points against the Bulldogs, the first time he did not lead the Utes in scoring this season. After playing Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday, Utah will host rival Brigham Young on Saturday.