Recruit pays early dividends



Throughout freshman Bethany Watterworth’s basketball career at Lake Orion High School, Golden Grizzlies head coach Beckie Francis made it no secret that she wanted to recruit her to play at Oakland University.

“We have been following her for the past two to three years,” Francis said. “We followed her all over the country; some people call it baby sitting because we had to make sure that we got her. She is just one of the more heralded recruits we have ever had.”

Coming into the season, Watterworth was expected to garner steady playing time in a reserve role, but this plan went out the window when all-league center Brittany Carnago was seriously injured moments into Oakland’s exhibition game, just days before the season opener.

The injury launched Watterworth into a starting role on a team with championship aspirations.

“Carnago went down and I was called in for a substitute,” Watterworth said. “I was kneeling at the scorer’s table and then I realized that my role was going to change and that I really had to step up and accept my role.”

With little time to wrap her mind around her new status as a starter, Watterworth scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in her career debut against Detroit Mercy Nov. 13. Two games later, she topped that with a career-high 24 points versus Toledo.

Since stepping into a more prominent role, Watterworth has made an immediate impact during her freshman season.

A starter in every game, she ranks second on the team in two major categories, averaging nearly 14 points and seven rebounds per game. 

Her success, however, has not come as a surprise to Francis or her teammates.

“It is not that I don’t play a lot of freshmen; it’s that usually the upperclassmen have more experience within our offense. But Bethany has thrown such a haymaker punch (with her talent) that it is so obvious she needs to be out there making an impact as a player,” Francis said.

Senior captain Melissa Jeltema took notice of her teammate’s talents before the season began.

“Starting practices (this fall) it was clear that Beth was going to be a great player and a vital asset to the team,” Jeltema said.” (She) has both lived up to and exceeded expectations.”

While Watterworth has been able to replace much of Carnago’s scoring, she said she is having a more difficult time filling in for Carnago on the defensive end.

Watterworth, who at 5-11, is four inches shorter than Carnago, often finds herself facing opponents who are even taller.

“In high school, I was the center and was probably the tallest player in every game,” Watterworth said. “Here I am the center too, but the girls we play are all (taller than me). That right there is a big change, trying to guard the taller girls, but I use my quickness to front them and get around them.”

Watterworth said she had some adjusting to do, playing at a higher level of competition. After four years of high school basketball, she found herself stepping onto the floor against the likes of Penn State, Marquette and Wisconsin — all perennial national contenders.

“The speed of going up and down the court is so different in high school and college,” Watterworth said. “The girls are so much stronger so that much more effort has to go into lifting and conditioning.”

Even though Oakland failed to win any of its games against top-level competition this season, Watterworth said she believes that playing those teams prepared them well for their ultimate goal, winning the Summit League Championship.

“I think right around the Penn State game is when we started to peak; just doing so well against a top team, we knew we could tear it up against any conference team,” Watterworth said. “I would rather play those types of games than kill teams by 30 points because they prepare us for our league games, and the whole purpose of the season is to win the conference and the Summit League Championship.”

Watterworth’s ability to put the ball in the basket and fill in at center are not the only two ways in which she leads the Grizzlies. 

She has willingly embraced her role as a team leader on and off the court, despite being a freshman on a team with several veterans.

“It is kind of weird (being a leader), because normally your typical freshmen don’t get that much playing time,” Watterworth said. “But the girls on the team, the seniors especially, have really helped me with the transition.”

Francis believes, though, that Watterworth’s personality is one that simply just does not come around very often.

“That is what is so refreshing about her,” Francis said. “Her self-confidence and inner-drive (allows her to) handle taking big shots.”