Path to Senior Day filled with obstacles for Watkins, Franklin



The good times for guard Amani Franklin and forward Lydia Watkins were rolling on Senior Day.

After all, the 71-50 dismantling over South Carolina on Sunday was payback for an earlier loss in the season to the Gamecocks, a season-high crowd was present, the win capped an undefeated season at home for the Cats, and the two seniors were honored for their contributions to the program in front of their families.

But that sweet game was only made possible by both Franklin and Watkins overcoming so much adversity in their careers.

“We could sit here all afternoon and just talk about how proud I am of (Franklin and Watkins) and how much they’ve overcome in their career,” said UK head coach Matthew Mitchell after Sunday’s game. “It’s really remarkable that they’re playing basketball at the level they’re playing right now.”

To put in to perspective how much Mitchell admires his seniors, he addressed the crowd following the end of Sunday’s game and singled out the efforts of Franklin and Watkins, even though UK has built their identity as a team on collective play.

Franklin and Watkins are known as the “grannies” to their teammates, because as teammate Rebecca Gray put it, “… their bodies are so old when it comes to basketball.”

A chronic knee condition plagues Franklin, who spends a lot of time with the bike — her “best friend” — in the training room, and is resigned to wear a brace on her left knee every game.

Yet Franklin’s knee hasn’t stopped her from playing as an under-sized forward, and performing well this season as a force on the backboard, said Mitchell.

“Amani (Franklin) has gone from a very introverted, non-assertive player that was very inconsistent to just the opposite,” Mitchell said.

On the other hand, Watkins’ injury-plagued career includes knee troubles, eight screws in three vertebrae and a shoulder dislocation, in addition to an extended absence from basketball due to her pregnancy with her son.

However, a rocky relationship with her coach, perhaps more so than her injuries, could have jeopardized the Southeastern Conference Sixth Woman of the Year candidate’s career.

“When I first got here, I didn’t communicate with him, and I kept things to myself, like when I was hurting,” Watkins said of her relationship with Mitchell. “It affected my game on the court which made (Mitchell) mad. So, I have grown and started communicating with him better, and it has definitely helped us a lot.”

Mitchell also reminisced about the days when Watkins wasn’t his go-to option off the bench.

“Well, Lydia (Watkins) and I butted heads a lot of days and I didn’t know if she was buying in or not,” Mitchell said. “We have worked hard on our relationship over three years … she has been the example I have pointed to on many occasions on what it means to be a Kentucky Wildcat.”

For Watkins and Franklin, three-time Women’s National Invitational Tournament participants, their final season has been the last chapter in an incredible, yet difficult, journey, which could still end with an exclamation mark.

“I’m happy at the position we’re at right now. We have a chance where we are going to make it to the NCAA Tournament if we continue to play well,” Franklin said. “(My senior year’s) just been great.”