Assistant Photography Editor Pictured: Sophomore guard Imani Watkins

Sophomore guard Imani Watkins describes her rookie season playing for the Binghamton women’s basketball team as “being thrown into the fire at a young age.”

Because of BU’s lack of depth last season, the High Point, North Carolina native started all 30 games for the Bearcats, averaging 36.6 minutes and 13.5 points per contest to earn a spot on the America East All-Rookie team. In her debut season, Watkins and fellow freshman guard Jasmine Sina formed a potent backcourt duo, combining to win the conference Rookie of the Week award eight times.

The inferno of Division I conference play that Watkins was thrown into prompted her to ignite a fire of her own, which she constantly brought to the Binghamton squad. As a starter last season, she helped set the tone for the go-hard, hustle mentality that her team became known for. Although it posted a 4-26 record and won just two conference matchups last season, Binghamton, under the guidance of first-year head coach Linda Cimino, emerged as a team that refused to cede defeat. It was not uncommon to see BU players scrambling on the floor for loose balls or sprinting down the court in transition even when trailing.

Early in 2014-15, the name Imani Watkins wasn’t featured prominently in the scouting reports of Binghamton’s conference rivals. After her noteworthy freshman campaign, however, Watkins is sure to be at the top of the list of each America East team this season. Watkins believes that she can handle the extra attention.

“I think you get better every year,” Watkins said. “The challenges change, but as a player, you have to change with them, so I think I’ll be prepared for whatever they throw at me this year.”

One of the new challenges that Watkins must face is the loss of teammate and backcourt partner Jasmine Sina, the 2015 America East Rookie of the Year. Sina required season-ending surgery after tearing her right ACL during a preseason training session and will redshirt the 2015-16 campaign. Last year, Sina was the only Bearcat to best Watkins in minutes played and points per game, tallying 39.1 and 14.8, respectively. The tandem of Watkins and Sina was an offensive force and a main reason why the Bearcats remained within striking distance in so many games.

“It’s a blow, but I think her being on the sideline is going to also make me better because she sees things that I can’t,” Watkins said. “[Sina] can still be my partner in crime, just a little differently this year. She has taken this in stride and I feel like even just in the few weeks of practice that we’ve had, she’s learned so much and that’s going to help us when she gets back on the floor. And it’s even going to help us this year.”

Without Sina on the court, Watkins will be looked upon to lead a Binghamton roster that features six newcomers.

“Leading is never easy,” Watkins said. “You just kind of do it. I definitely think being thrown into the fire so young has prepared me and molded me to become a better leader faster.”

The game experience Watkins gained from her large role as a freshman are sure to benefit her as she attempts to help the Bearcats best their spot in the preseason poll. Binghamton was predicted to finish last in the nine-team conference.

“I think just being a leader last year has really helped me understand how much of a leader I have to be this year,” Watkins said. “Being vocal and being patient and understanding that we’re learning together.”

As the leader of BU, Watkins has placed the team’s goals ahead of any individual aspirations.

“Our goal is just to get better every day,” Watkins said. “You don’t want to take 10 steps forward and then 30 steps back. You kind of want to take one step every day, two steps every day. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”