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A totally new ball game

It takes grit and hard work to become a NCAA bound athlete. It takes grit to spend a day in the gym, not leaving until you’ve made 100 free throws in a row. Senior Tyiona Watkins has that grit.

Watkins, a shooting guard and small forward, has been playing basketball since the age of five. Encouraged to start playing basketball by her mother, a Walnut track and basketball alumnus of 1993, Watkins participated in youth basketball leagues and was recruited to a travel basketball team. Watkins father began training her on a consistent basis as basketball became more intense and a larger part of her life.

“All the practice we do, the one-on-one scenarios have really helped me,” Watkins said. “Both of them really support me, and even though my dad is the one really training me my mom still is there helping out.”

Before she came to Walnut at the start of her senior year, Watkins attended Brea Olinda. In her sophomore year, Watkins and her team won the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Championship. Her team victory lead her to an individual victory and Watkins made the All-County roster, the only sophomore on the list that year.

“Sophomore year I was [playing at my best],” Watkins said. “I was really enjoying myself and making All-County as a sophomore made me feel special. They chose the best players in the league and making the list was a huge accomplishment for me.”

In her eighth grade and freshman years, Watkins had her heart set on committing to USC. She had  peers and mentors who were encouraging and supportive in helping her reach this goal.

“When I started playing and other coaches started watching me I realized that I didn’t have to be [set] on going to that school,” Watkins said. “I saw that and knew I should open up my options.”

With schools like Loyola Marymount, University of Southern California and St. John’s University hoping to give Watkins a spot on their roster, deciding what college she wanted to go to was a tedious process. Watkins visited each school last semester before deciding to commit to the University of Washington.

“When I went to Washington, I felt like I was right at home,” Watkins said. “I bonded with the girls and coaches, and everyone was banded together like family.”

Watkins’ transfer to Walnut has impacted her academically as well as athletically.

“School-wise, things are a lot better [than last year],” Watkins said. “I’m more focused and [I like] to come to school now.”

Watkins has formed a tight bond with the girls of the Walnut basketball program. Their friendship shows on and off the court.

“At Brea we had our own separate cliques, but here we’re like family,” Watkins said. “I see them almost too much, but it’s nice having people around that care about you and always have your back.”

By Bhalpriya Sandhu, Staff writer
Photo by Erin Tan