Athlete of The Week: Imani Watkins

BINGHAMTON - The B.U. women's basketball team has had great team and individual success this season.

At the forefront of it all is my Athlete of the Week.

"When I think about the past four years here, my experience here, Imani's been a part of every memory for me here. She's been so loyal to me, and to the program. But, we've done this together. We've rebuilt this program together," said Head Coach Linda Cimino.

When Linda Cimino arrived at Binghamton University in 2014, she inherited a team that won five games the previous season.

She was coming into a situation that she knew had to turn around.

That began with the help of a young guard from High Point, North Carolina.

Her name: Imani Watkins.

Despite losing seasons their first three years, their relationship has been able to grow as much as the program itself.

"She's an amazing person more than anything. The way she coaches us. The way she believes in us, as not just basketball players but as people," says Watkins.

"I'm really proud to be her coach. She's made me a better coach. She's made me a better person. I definitely cherish the relationship that we have."

That relationship was on full display February 17 when Watkins sank a corner three to become the all-time program scoring leader.

She got up and immediately embraced Cimino, who then sent Imani out to salute the crowd.
In the crowd that day were 20-plus members of Imani's family, some of them seeing her play for the first time at Binghamton.
Having them in the stands for that moment was a thrill for Watkins.

"That group, those 21 people, that's my core. They keep me going. They're a bit draining at times because they don't see my often. So, when they do they're pulling. But, it's a blessing because a lot of people don't have that."

Imani says that it was difficult leaving her family in North Carolina to come to Binghamton, but there is no regret.

"It was a culture shock, but I think it was the best place for me. I think Binghamton was what I needed, and I think I'm better because of it."

You could argue that the program needed Imani as much as she said she needed the program.

But, basketball won't be the biggest takeaway from her time in college.

Rather, it's something she calls 'changing clothes', or the ability to be yourself while also coming together with those who are different than you.

"The ability to understand that just because someone wasn't raised like you, or just because someone is different than you, doesn't mean that you can't sit down and have dinner together. Or you can't have a conversation about sports, politics, or anything like that."

B.U. has clearly made an impact on Imani, but coach Cim says that it will be Imani who leaves an impact on B.U.

"I hope Imani's legacy is that she gave us our first America East championship, and brought this team to the NCAA tournament. If we fall short of that, her legacy will be nothing less than just a remarkable person, a great player, a great teammate, and a future Hall of Famer."

After enduring three seasons with 17 or more losses, Imani and B.U. are ready to enter the America East tournament as the three seed, their highest seeding since 2011.

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