Jamira Watkins was a dutiful member of the Queen of Peace girls’ basketball team ever since she transferred from DePaul Catholic in Wayne two years ago.
The 6-foot Watkins was a serviceable power forward, content to serve as a backup for Raven Farley Clark, the McDonald’s All-American headed to Louisiana State University in the fall. She scored all of 45 points last year as the Golden Griffins won 28 games and advanced to the NJSIAA Non-Public B North title game against Saddle River Day.
Watkins’ role increased somewhat this year, averaging six points and nine rebounds in seven games prior to the first of the year. She had 12 rebounds in win earlier this season against Holmdel, one of the best teams in central New Jersey.
But no one could have ever predicted what Watkins has been contributing since the calendar year turned to 2017.
And certainly no one could have envisioned the game Watkins had last week in place of Farley Clark, who sat out the game against Shabazz.
Prior to the Shabazz game, Watkins had been on somewhat of a tear, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a win over Atlantic City, collecting 10 points and 12 rebounds against Weequahic and scoring 10 points against Somerville, definitely showing an increase of production.
When Watkins learned that Farley Clark wasn’t playing against Shabazz, leaving her with the inside duties, she admittedly got a little nervous.
“Sure, there was a little more pressure,” Watkins said. “Everyone depends on Raven to do so much. I knew I had to step it up. When Raven’s there, I just try to get my points from put-backs (on rebounds off missed shots). But I knew I was going to do the best that I could. I just go out there and play.”
“It was important for us to have Jamira play well,” said Queen of Peace head coach Jiovanny Fontan. “When Raven didn’t play, we definitely needed Jamira.”
But no one could have ever believed that Watkins would explode for 29 points and 25 rebounds. Those numbers are astounding, but true.
Watkins had the game of her life. She scored 25 of her 29 points in the first half alone. This coming from a girl whose career high was 15 just a few weeks ago.
“Something just happened to her,” Fontan said. “It’s one of those unexplained things. Over the past two weeks, she’s been our best player hands down. She’s been on another level on both ends. It was really a surprise to everyone.”
For her efforts, Watkins has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“I just go out and try my best every game,” Watkins said. “I know I have to just keep going now. I honestly didn’t know I had that much. I was shocked when I was told I had 29. It proved to me that I could do things I didn’t think that I could. I will now go out every game and try to improve on this one. I’ve set the bar pretty high now.”
Watkins grew up in Paterson, part of a basketball family. Her father was a youth basketball coach in the Paterson PAL who once coached Jiovanny Fontan. Her cousins are Darryl Watkins, who played for Syracuse and later played in the NBA and currently plays professional basketball in France, and Myles Mack, the former St. Anthony and Rutgers University guard currently playing pro basketball in Denmark.
Needless to say, the game has been pumped through her veins.
“I fell in love with the game,” Watkins said. “I somehow knew I should have been getting more out of basketball. I have to thank my family and my teammates for getting me the opportunity to do more.”
Fontan knew that Watkins had improved.
“She had been putting a lot more work into the game,” Fontan said. “She had been the first one in the gym and the last one to leave. She’s being active around the basket. The shot goes up and she goes and gets it. Being active has helped her get points. She has great energy and provides energy. Something just happened to her and it’s been good for us.”
Watkins has not made a decision about college just yet. She has not received any NCAA Division I offers, although St. Peter’s College (where teammate D’Ayvion Magazine is headed) and Coppin State have made initial calls. She has received inquiries from Division II and Division III programs, but Watkins has her sights set.
“I have to go D-I,” Watkins said. “I have been motivated by my teammates (Farley Clark and Magazine) to go D-I. I know this game helps me a lot. You never know.”
Fontan is hopeful that Watkins gets a chance to play big-time.
“It’s just a matter of her getting the right look,” Fontan said. “I think she’s developed into a player that could help some school. I know this game helps out a lot. This sets her up well. It would be great if St. Peter’s offered her, because the two of them would be there.”
As for leaving DePaul to come to Queen of Peace: “I feel like I made the best choice. It was perfect for me, both academically and for sports. It was a perfect fit.”
The Golden Griffins won their first round game in the Bergen County Tournament, defeating New Milford. They face Westwood this Saturday in the quarterfinal round.
And there’s the other matter, losing the state sectional title last year by a single point in the closing seconds.
“We’re all ready for that,” Watkins said. “We’re not going to fall short this time. Everyone wants another chance at that.”
Queen of Peace senior forward Jamira Watkins. Photo by Jim Hague