No matter what accolades Jewel Watkins earns this season for the Whitehall-Yearling girls basketball team, the credit will go to someone who always will be close to her heart.
Watkins' father, Joe Watkins Sr., died Nov. 19 after suffering a heart attack at his home. He was 66.
Affectionately known as J.T, he was the pastor and founder of The ROCK Ministries, formerly known as Solid Rock Church of Christ, in Columbus.
Watkins, a junior guard, is honoring her father by dedicating this season to his memory.
"I want to make him proud in basketball, go somewhere with it," she said. "He would have loved this team. I'm sorry he didn't get to see our first game. ... He expected a lot from me, but he was very supportive."
The Rams, who have been battling injuries, were 9-5 overall and 6-1 in the MSL-Ohio Division before playing Wellington on Jan. 14.
Sophomores Alexia Mobley (concussion) and Brooklynn Greer (wrist) returned to the lineup to help the Rams defeat Bexley 42-37 on Jan. 10. Mobley scored 13 points and Kiara Bagley added 10.
Mobley missed the previous five games and Greer was out nine games.
With Mobley and Greer out of the lineup, Watkins took on more of a scoring role. She had 15 points in a 63-59 win over Buckeye Valley on Jan. 4 and a season-high 24 in a 65-59 win over London on Jan. 2.
Through 14 games, she was averaging 14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.2 steals.
Watkins, who was first-team all-league last season, had a 4.0 GPA for the first semester and has impressed her mother and coach Quentin Taylor with her resiliency.
"She's a perfect daughter, no trouble out of her," said her mother, DeLisa. "She's very athletic, she's very smart (and) she has good common sense. I'm excited for her.
"I'm very impressed with her stamina and her perseverance. We've been watching her carefully. She's who we're going to rally around because she's the youngest of the kids and they were together all the time. He picked her up all the time after school. ... She didn't lose hope. Basketball has been her therapy. Her friends have been really supportive. She's doing all right. I'm not overly concerned."
Jewel credits Taylor, who is in his first season leading Rams, for providing support on and off the court.
"He does a lot for me," she said. "Basketball-wise, he encourages me, motivates me. He tells me when I'm wrong and what I need to work on. He's the one that takes me home now that my dad doesn't pick me up from basketball anymore. He's definitely a big mentor and father figure. He treats the whole team as his daughters."
Taylor said "the whole school and team rallied around" Watkins after her father died.
"She still has moments where you can tell she's checking out and thinking, but her mother has allowed me to have even more of a deeper relationship with her due to her dad passing," Taylor said.
Watkins' athletic ability runs in the family. Her brother, Hakeem, has been a professional boxer in the lightweight division since 2015 and was introduced to the sport by his father, who was a fighter before becoming a pastor. J.T. trained with William Douglas, the father of former heavyweight champion Buster Douglas. Her sister, Shelea, also is a former boxer.
Watkins played her freshman season at Gahanna Christian, earning first-team all-MOCAL and honorable mention all-district in Division IV. When the school stopped offering classes in ninth through 12th grade before the 2018-19 school year because of budget restraints, Watkins decided to transfer to Whitehall.
She was introduced to competitive basketball in sixth grade at Gahanna Christian and developed a bond with coaches Becky and John Grubich, who guided the middle school team.
"They're my favorites," Watkins said. "They got me interested. I was playing basketball outside and then I decided to try out for the team."
Watkins remains close with the Grubichs, who have attended several Whitehall games to support Watkins.
"She's one of our favorites," John Grubich said. "I love her dearly. I text her almost daily. Her name says it all. She is a Jewel. Her personality, her athleticism, she has it all. She's always pleasant, just a great kid.
"Her dad was one of the few men that when you met him and walked away from him, you always felt you were a better person. He is greatly missed."
Boys basketball team rebounds for key win
The boys basketball team bounced back from a 55-54 loss to Columbus Academy on Jan. 7 to defeat Worthington Christian 48-40 on Jan. 11 and improve to 4-1 in the MSL-Ohio.
Royal Sibley scored 15 points and Josiah Mobley added 11 against Worthington Christian.
Mobley scored 16 points and Kei'Von Wiggins had 13 against Academy.
Whitehall was 6-4 overall before playing Reynoldsburg on Jan. 14.
Below are the coming schedules for the Whitehall-Yearling boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 17 -- Home vs. Buckeye Valley
Jan. 18 -- Home vs. Eastmoor Academy
*Jan. 21 -- At Bexley. The Rams defeated the Lions 57-37 on Dec. 7.
*Jan. 18 -- Home vs. Columbus School for Girls. The Rams defeated the Unicorns 63-26 on Dec. 6.
*Jan. 17 -- Groveport at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl
Jan. 18 -- Sweet 16 Shootout at Poelking Lanes South in Dayton
Jan. 18 -- Panther Invitational at Pickerington North