Utah basketball: Josh Watkins dismissed for team violation
Josh "Jiggy" Watkins' Utah basketball career drew to a premature close Wednesday, his flashy drives, uncanny spin moves and brash nature unable to make up for an inability to meet the expectations of his first-year coach.
The senior point guard was dismissed from the Utes program by Larry Krystkowiak, a move that came six weeks after Watkins, Utah's leading scorer, served a one-game suspension for indiscretions such as sleeping through class and arriving late for practice.
In the end, Krystkowiak said, Watkins was kicked off the team for issues similar to the ones that led to his suspension.
"I was hoping that was an eye-opening deal where it wouldn't happen again," Krystkowiak said, saying that the suspension was meant as a "lifeline."
"I just ran out of lifelines," he said.
Watkins was just one of four players to return to the Utes from last season, and he led the team in points (15.6) and assists (4.8). He was fourth in the Pac-12 in each category.
Watkins did not return messages seeking comment.
The Utes (4-13, 1-4) host Arizona on Thursday, and so begins the post-Jiggy Era.
The apex of Watkins' shortened season came against Washington State Jan. 5 when he hit jump shots from the elbow to send the game to overtime and, once there, win it, 62-60. It remains Utah's only win in the Pac-12. A native New Yorker, Watkins proudly flashed his heritage, whether it was in his Rucker Park-style of play or the address tattooed on his right arm: "142nd and Crime Square."
With Arizona already in town and the Utes aiming to maintain their recent strong home play, Utah had little time to be nostalgic for Watkins' better days.
"We respect Coach's decision, we just have to move on," said freshman point guard Kareem Storey, who will replace Watkins in the starting lineup. "We have to play hard play as a team and look forward to the future."
There's no hiding from how deeply dependent the Utes had become on Watkins for offense. The team would often run a play and, when it was not there, turn to Watkins to drive. Krystkowiak said the Utes would, on short notice, develop a new style of play.
"We're going to be a third- and fourth-option kind of team," Krystkowiak said, "instead of maybe a termination with the pick and roll, which Jiggy was really good at."
So what happens when you take the best player away from a bad team?
The Utes have already suffered some of the worst losses in Utah history this season, including a 36-point defeat at California on Saturday. Losing Watkins and his 15 points per game is a severe blow to a team that can ill-afford to lose the marginal talent it has.
Chris Hines had his best performance of the season on Jan. 12 when he scored 21 points at Stanford. He, too, will be expected to handle some point guard duties.
"I think everybody has to step up," Hines said. "It's not just me."
Jason Washburn is the Utes' new leading scorer at 10.5 points per game. Along with Hines, he is the most experienced player on the roster.
He said it was time to move on from Watkins' dismissal.
"We can't let it affect the outcome of games," he said. "We can't use it as an excuse, we've got to come out here and we've got to play Arizona tomorrow."
Arizona at Utah
P Tipoff • Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 4-13 (1-4), Arizona 12-6 (3-2)
Series Record • Utah 28-21
Last meeting • Arizona 84-71 (March 20, 2009)
About the Utes • Utah will play its first game since point guard Josh "Jiggy" Watkins was kicked off the team on Wednesday. Watkins led the Utes and was fourth in the Pac-12 with 15.6 points and 4.8 assists per game. ... Junior center Jason Washburn becomes the Utes' leading scorer at 10.5 points per game. ... Utah lost to Arizona 73-43 in 2005, the last time the Wildcats played in Salt Lake City.
About the Wildcats • Junior forward Solomon Hill leads the Wildcats with 12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. ... Sean Miller is in his third year as the Wildcats' head coach and is 58-29 including a trip to last year's Elite Eight. ... Statistically, the Wildcats have the Pac-12's best 3-point defense (holding teams to 27.1 percent) while Utah is the conference's worst 3-point shooting team (28.3 percent).