KEARNEY — Kearney boys basketball already had to find a replacement for its head coach, but now the Bulldogs will have to find a new leading scorer.
Senior Brennan Watkins announced Wednesday on Twitter that he will attend Springfield Commonwealth Academy for the 2020-21 season.
Watkins told the Courier-Tribune that he decided to attend the Springfield, Massachusetts college preparatory school because it will give him the best opportunity to receive scholarship offers to play basketball at the Division I level. He said he’s excited for the daily grind of practicing with and playing against some of the best talent in the nation.
“We will be playing top Division I prospects,” Watkins said. “That’ll really prepare me for wherever I go.”
Watkins, whose 25 points per game led the entire Greater Kansas City Suburban Conference, set multiple school records during his junior campaign. His scoring and leadership helped rally the 12-14 Bulldogs to a district title game appearance after an injury-plagued 2-7 start to the season.
First-year Kearney boys basketball head coach Dillon Starzl, who coached Watkins for the last three years as an assistant coach, said he was proud of Watkins for making the tough decision.
“He’s been working at it and he’s going to achieve a lot of great things,” Starzl said. “I’m excited to just watch him next year at the prep school and at the next level.”
Starzl said that even more than the offensive production, the Bulldogs will miss the leadership Watkins brought on and off the court. He said Watkins’s work ethic really sets him apart from most players.
“He just always wants to get better,” Starzl said. “He wants to be in the gym all the time.
“That’s what makes him so good. He broke seven records last year with Kearney and that’s not because he woke up one day and just decided he wanted to start shooting a basketball.”
Watkins said he spent most of the summer struggling over the decision. He started exploring the prep school route shortly after his junior season ended, but a large factor in his decision was the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Right now, I feel like (Missouri schools) won’t have a basketball regular season,” Watkins said. “I decided to go to prep school because they are more likely to play.”
Watkins said a season is more likely at SCA because the school has less than 100 students and class sizes are as small as 4-6 students. His new coach also reassured him that if their basketball season is ultimately canceled, the team will livestream scrimmages so college coaches can still evaluate the players.
Watkins’s opportunities to impress college coaches were further limited by the disruption of his summer AAU season. His team was unable to start practicing until about a month ago and the team has only been able to play a couple tournaments. He said no college coaches were able to attend those events as a safety measure.
“I wasn’t really getting the exposure I thought I needed,” he said.
Watkins said he will miss playing at Kearney, especially the pregame rituals and the game day experience of having a packed student section cheering on the Bulldogs. He will also miss his teammates who he said were happy for him when he broke the news.
“They were all positive toward me and wishing me the best of luck,” Watkins said. “They’re supporting me and that’s all I can hope for from teammates.”