Northern Illinois University men’s basketball head coach Mark Montgomery announced on Wednesday the hiring of Brandon Watkins as an assistant coach. Watkins, who was a graduate assistant at NIU from 2013-15, joins the Huskies after one season as head coach at Morton College.
“We are excited to have Brandon Watkins return to NIU,” said Montgomery. “Being a former Division I player at a high-level and a professional player overseas Brandon brings a wealth of experience that will benefit our student-athletes. I know he will bring great energy and enthusiasm to his job every day.
“Have previously been a part of our program as a graduate assistant, Brandon understands the culture here at NIU and what it takes to compete at a championship level.”
In his lone season at Morton College, Watkins led an extremely young Panthers team that featured two sophomores and 11 freshmen to a 9-20 record. Under Watkins’ guidance, Deonte McReynolds was named to the All-Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference Second Team.
A native of Chicago, Ill., Watkins began his coaching career in 2011-12 as the head sophomore coach and varsity assistant at his alma mater, St. Joseph’s High School in Westchester, Ill., where he led the sophomore team to an 18-6 record and worked under legendary head coach Gene Pingatore with the varsity team.
In 2012-13, Watkins coached the freshmen team at Riverside Brookfield High School, leading the Bulldogs to a perfect 24-0 record.
Watkins joined the NIU staff as a graduate assistant in 2013-14, helping the Huskies to a 10-win improvement, the 10th-largest nationally and the largest single-season improvement in school history. The Huskies earned the No. 7 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament and hosted a first round tournament game for the first time since 2003. The following season, the Huskies finished with a RPI of 188, the school’s best since 2005-06.
After earning his graduate degree from NIU in 2015, Watkins started his own player development company called Blueprint Athletic Training.
As a player, Watkins played collegiately at Penn State under Jerry Dunn; helping lead the Nittany Lions to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2001. Watkins earned All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition as a senior in 2003 and ranks 13th in Penn State history in career assists.
Watkins went on to play professionally in Europe for eight seasons, playing in France, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Estonia and Germany. Among the notable teams Watkins played for were Wolfburg in Germany, the club team of NBA star Dirk Nowitzki, as well as Greek powerhouse Olympiakos. In 2008, Watkins was named newcomer of the year in Germany while leading the league in points and assists.
Watkins earned his bachelor’s degree in communications from Penn State in 2007 and his master’s from NIU in adult and higher education in 2015.