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Mike Watkins will Start for Penn State Basketball on Sunday

He’s back!

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Penn State vs Nebraska Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Watkins sat out Penn State’s two exhibition games as well as the season opener against Campbell due to off-court issues, but head coach Pat Chambers announced during his postgame press conference that the redshirt sophomore will return to the starting lineup on Sunday against Fairleigh Dickinson.

The Nittany Lions prevailed on Friday 86-75 without Watkins thanks to a career-high scoring effort from Tony Carr, but the big man’s presence was still missed. Without Watkins on the floor, Penn State allowed Campbell to grab 11 offensive rebounds. The Lions also only blocked four shots all game and shot 37 percent from the field without Watkins’s high-percentage finishing available.

Off-court problems are nothing new for Watkins, who ended up redshirting his freshman season because of academic issues. From what Chambers has told the press this autumn, it seems that grades are once again causing the starting center to miss time.

Although Fairleigh Dickinson is not the most formidable opponent on Penn State’s schedule, the game should allow for Watkins to get his feet wet and form a stronger bond with some of his new teammates. The Lions can’t expect Carr to score 33 points in every game, so Watkins will be counted on when the strength of schedule ramps up in late November and early December.

Last year, Watkins averaged 9.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game while shooting 59 percent from the field. Along with fellow sophomores Carr and Lamar Stevens, he’s a major reason why Penn State fans are so optimistic about basketball season this year.