Before becoming Binghamton University’s all-time scoring leader with 2,125 points, before becoming a two-time Eastern College Athletic Conference All-Star and before graduating with the school’s record for three-point field goals, Imani Watkins was an average student who didn’t necessarily have college on her mind.
“My mom went to a two-year university, my father played at a Division II [school] for two years, so … [going to a four-year school] just wasn’t really a thing,” said Watkins, who is now a senior majoring in sociology. “I always got good grades, I was always doing really well in school, it was just never a thought. And then I got into basketball.”
Watkins didn’t always play basketball. Growing up, the North Carolina native enjoyed playing and watching football, but after getting hurt in seventh grade, she stopped playing football. Then the summer between seventh and eighth grade, she traded in her cleats for basketball sneakers.
As she began her journey playing basketball, Watkins learned quickly that basketball could be a way to gain new experiences, causing her to take the game seriously. During the summer before her freshman year of high school, Watkins would work out with her dad, go to high school workouts and then to an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) practice every day.
“I didn’t take driver’s ed in high school because I refused to miss AAU practice … because in North Carolina, driver’s ed is after school for like two weeks and I refused to miss AAU practice [for two weeks],” she said.
Watkins became extremely committed to becoming a better player. Taking time off was not an option and being the best she could be was always her focus. Though she took on a large commitment, the pressure never seemed to phase her.
“It’s just noise at the end of the day,” Watkins said. “You can’t allow what’s said outside those floor lines to dictate how you practice and how you compete.”
While she hardly faced challenges on the court, she did face challenges with being a part of a new environment like Binghamton University.
“It was definitely a culture shock, coming from a predominately black inner-city high school,” she said.
While this presented a challenge different than any she had experienced before, Watkins believed attending a school like BU helped her in the long run, making her a more well-rounded person.
“It definitely helped me understand how to deal with different kinds of people but still be myself,” she said.
By following one of her passions, Watkins learned that she is strong enough to do anything and continues to use what the game of basketball has taught her about herself.
“There is not a thing that I can think of that at this point in my life I wouldn’t be able to do,” Watkins said. “When you look at the odds and everything that said that I shouldn’t be here and everything that said none of this should be possible, and to look at my stat sheet from fall 2014 to now. You tell me what I can’t do. At the end of the day, it’s understanding that it does not matter what the odds are, it doesn’t matter who’s for you or who’s against you, as long as you 100 percent believe in yourself and you are surrounded by people who believe in you, you’ll be successful.”