VCU: Guard Jamir Watkins out for season with torn ACL

With the preseason on the horizon, the VCU Rams have now lost two players to significant injuries before the season even begins.

On Sept. 30, the program announced that sophomore guard Jamir Watkins will miss the entire 2021-22 season after tearing his right ACL in practice earlier that week. The injury was confirmed after an MRI conducted on the morning of Sept. 29 by VCU Athletics Chief Medical Officer Dr. Seth Cheatham.

“We’re devastated by the news, but we know with Jamir’s work ethic and approach, he’ll be back and ready to work in a few months,” head coach Mike Rhoades said in a statement released by VCU Athletics.

The injury is a devastating blow to VCU and to Watkins, who many had singled out as a breakout candidate. Watkins was projected to possibly take on starting two-guard duties with A-10 Player of the Year Bones Hyland leaving VCU to enter the NBA.

A 6-foot-7 sophomore from Trenton, New Jersey, Watkins selected VCU over several “Power 5” schools, including Virginia Tech and West Virginia.

As a freshman at VCU, Watkins averaged 7.2 points per game, third-highest on the team. He appeared in all 26 of VCU’s games, starting twice when Hyland went down with an injury late in the 2020-21 regular season. In seven games, Watkins scored in double figures, including recording a double-double in his start against Davidson on Feb. 27.

Most importantly, Watkins closed the 2020-21 campaign strong. In his last seven games, his scoring average crept up to 9.6 points per game thanks to an increased workload due to injuries. All signs pointed to Watkins continuing to elevate his game.

The injury is the second significant injury suffered by the Rams’ backcourt. Starting point guard Ace Baldwin ruptured his left Achilles injury during the summer and is expected to be out at least through the end of the calendar year.

Last year, Baldwin average 4.4 assists per game, a program record for a freshman. He also became the first VCU freshman since Bradford Burgess in 2009 to start every game. Additionally, Baldwin’s 2.1 steals per game planted the Baltimore native second in the A-10.

Suddenly, VCU finds itself thin at the guard position, which is perhaps the most important position group in a Mike Rhoades-run offense. Per VCU’s website, there are six healthy guards on the roster. However, with the shift to “positionless” basketball, coupled with Watkins being listed as a forward despite playing more like a shooting guard, makes that designation moot.

Of the remaining options, at least to open the season, Rhoades can lean on experience with senior guard KeShawn Curry and Washington transfer Marcus Tsohonis. The pair seem on the surface to be the most likely pair to handle the traditional guard positions on the opening roster just based on experience, despite the fact that neither can facilitate as well as Watkins and Baldwin.

There has also been some buzz around the incoming freshmen class, namely Michigan native Jayden Nunn. Nunn could see an expanded role, and possibly even some starts, thanks to the newly-available minutes.

Fans will get their first chance to see Rhoades’ plan for the guard position when the Rams take the floor for their annual intra-squad scrimmage on Oct. 16. The Rams open their season with an exhibition game against Virginia State University on Nov. 1.