Former Lake Orion High and Oakland University basketball player Bethany Watterworth considers the opportunity to have played NCAA Division I basketball a dream come true.
But after sustaining a back injury that caused her to miss her entire “true” senior season at Oakland, it seemed as though that dream might be cut short.
As recently as September of 2013, after already having missed an entire season, Watterworth was also expecting to miss her redshirt senior season. In other words, she thought her college career was finished.
But after getting some encouragement from head coach Jeff Tungate, and some physical therapy, Watterworth was able to return to the Golden Grizzlies’ roster last season. Tungate opted to take what may be best described as a slow and easy approach with Watterworth, gradually increasing her minutes over the course of the season.
That approach seems to have paid off, as by January, when Oakland began to play Horizon League games, Watterworth said she was at “full strength.”
Watterworth went on to be selected to the All-League second team and had seven 20-plus point performances for the season.
Watterworth expressed appreciation for the opportunity to complete her college basketball career.
“I’m so happy,” she said. “Definitely give the glory to God for allowing me to get back on the court — it really was a miracle to be back out there. When I was hurt, a lot of people would say, ‘It’s all right, Bethany. You had a good three years.’ I wasn’t satisfied with that; I wanted to finish it out right, and I wanted to have a senior night. To play this year means the world. To be able to play for our new coach, coach Tungate, was unbelievable, as well.
“He’s very motivational. He brings so much to the table — not only caring about us on the court, but caring about us off the court. Has a good perspective on the game and life. Even at the beginning of the season, when I was just playing like 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, and then 20 minutes, he would preach that it’s ‘well-being over winning.’ He was more concerned about my health than winning.”
Watterworth cited support she has received as a key to the success she has had. Examples of those who have supported her along the way include her parents, as well as coaches, including Tungate, AAU coach John Ciszewski and Lake Orion coach Steve Roberts.
While Watterworth counts learning about time management, determination, communication and leadership as lessons she has learned through athletics, her overall role as a student-athlete at Oakland has provided her with some rich experiences.
“Great fit for me to be able to play here,” said Watterworth, who considers wins against Clemson and Illinois to be some of her favorite memories from her collegiate playing days. “Oakland is close to my home. To have my parents, family and close friends be able to come to the games and support me — that was awesome. Throughout the years, I felt like I grew up in my skills and my talents here. Even more than just on the court — I grew up as an individual.
“Being a college athlete has been awesome. It’s a cool atmosphere here, as far as athletics — it’s like a family atmosphere. It’s a good environment. I’ve learned a lot in my time here.”
Although her college playing days are over, Watterworth is still a student at Oakland, as she is in graduate school for physical therapy.
While exciting things could lie ahead, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be moments when she misses her time as a student-athlete.
“It’s tough to say goodbye to the sport,” said Watterworth, who was All-State academically and as a player at Lake Orion, where she was also part of a team that finished as state runner-up her senior season. “I’m thinking about playing professionally. It’s an option, so we’ll see what happens. But being done with the college aspect of it — it’s kind of bittersweet. I’ve been here for five years with my redshirt year, and I’ll be here for a couple more, but with school. It hasn’t hit me yet, but once I don’t go back in the fall, and once I’m not here training with the team in the summer — I think it will hit me more.”
For her career, Watterworth was a first team All-Summit League selection twice. She was selected to the second team during her freshman season at Oakland, since the Golden Grizzlies competed in the Summit League prior to their inaugural campaign in the Horizon League last season.
Last season, Watterworth became just the sixth player in Oakland history to score more than 1,900 points in her career.