On Thursday, Stephen Nesbitt of the PG reported that neither of the highly regarded first year bigs, Isaiah Watkins and Jordan Robinson have practiced so far this fall. Watkins remains sidelined because of minor off season surgery while the NCAA still must review Robinson’s eligibility. I’ve begun to wonder how invasive Watkins surgery actual was and why the heck the NCAA hasn’t ruled on Robinson yet. The season starts in less than two weeks and while the bureaucracy of college athletics’ governing body often moves at a snails pace, I can’t recall them ever taking this long to clear someone. So what does the delay mean for both of these players and the team?
Robinson’s situation is pretty straight forward. He’ll either play or the NCAA will classify him as a partial qualifier allowing him to practice but not appear in games. This would stink to high heaven for 2013-14 but in the long run could benefit the program. Originally a class of 2014 member, somehow the young Canadian found a way to graduate early and start his college career. Of course, he may have thought he found a way when in fact he didn’t fulfill all of the NCAA requirements. News of his status caught me completely off guard, but I’m optimistic that he’ll play. My biggest beef relates to extended time line for the decision. Even if the NCAA rules in his favor Tuesday, he missed almost all of the preseason practices. Watching and studying his teammates play doesn’t hurt but it doesn’t replace actually getting out there and doing it himself. He lags behind his teammates but if he gets cleared this week he feasibly could eat minutes in the season opener whether ready or not.
Watkins is a little more confusing because previous rumors have led me to believe his surgery was not serious and that he should have returned by now. However, he still can’t play almost four months later. Nesbitt reports that he could start practice by the first week of November, but I have a creeping skepticism about his readiness. Let’s say that the doctor’s do allow him to start practicing next week. Getting yourself ready quickly after sitting out for eligibility reasons is one thing, but getting into game shape after an injury presents a completely different set of challenges. Even if they deem Watkins fit for practice next Monday, I suspect he’ll need at least two or three weeks before he can even think about playing an actual game.
If we hit our most optimistic timeline, Robinson should eat minutes if necessary in the Abeline Christian game while Watkins could debut in Morgantown. Should that happen, Ferry could proceed as planned with any redshirts he hoped to use. If we experience further delays with Robinson’s ruling, Darius Lewis would likely play in his place or LG Gill might have to move out of position ala Kadeem Pantophlet. I don’t think either is ready for prime time especially with Gill changing to a forward, but if they only need to play extended minutes against Abilene Christian and New Hampshire, I can live with it even if it alters long term plans. Should he decide to stick with the script on redshirts, Ferry could elect to go small or play walk on Nick Foscia during the normal course of a game.
Ferry could keep the machine working with bubble gum and some aluminum foil if Robinson or Watkins only miss the first two games. Any longer than that and he’ll need to change his plans. Duquesne only play four games before Thanksgiving and even without both of their freshman bigs, they have a very realistic shot at going 4-0 or 3-1. Thankfully, neither Robinson or Watkins projects as a starter now and with Dominique McKoy in the fold, the Dukes should have cover. He and Ovie Soko will just need to play more and it’s possible that Ferry could slow it down early in the season to keep those two fresh. If the NCAA forces Robinson to redshirt, the Dukes get stronger in the long run even if it leaves them thin upfront for now. If Watkins’ recovery takes him out for another month or two, the Dukes could run into trouble. They need he or Robinson if they hope to make a splash in A-10 play.
I read into situations sometimes and maybe, I’ve over analyzed this one at forward prematurely. With limited information, the mind drifts to the most unfortunate outcomes sometimes. Before applying doomsday logic, I should acknowledge that more likely than not the freshman missing early won’t hurt much. If they get rolling soon, they’ll pick up the system before the games count and certainly reach mid-season form by then. In the best case scenario, Robinson makes it back in time to play the season opener. In the worst case scenario, neither is ready and it forces Jim Ferry to deviate from his long term plans. If Nesbitt accurately reported Watkins timeline, I would not expect the delay to impact competition this year. In the end, the freshman missing practice shouldn’t mean much, but I hope it resolves itself quickly.