Misty Opat built the Rock Valley College women’s basketball program into a national junior college powerhouse before leaving a year ago for Chicago State. So who better to run the program now than her former righthand man Darryl Watkins. He was named the head coach today.
Darryl Watkins was the girls head coach the last two seasons at his high school alama mater Rockford Auburn, but before that he spent five seasons on the bench with Opat at RVC as her top assistant.
“It’s a real surreal moment being able to come back to a place where I’ve already witnessed success; been a part of success,” said Watkins to Eyewitness News Monday morning.
The championship banners that hang from the top of the Physical Education Center are a testament to that success. The RVC women’s basketball program has accounted for four national championships in the last eight seasons and two national runner-up finishes. Watkins credits Opat with helping his own coaching career take off.
“I felt like she was always grooming me for this moment whether it was here or whether it was when I went over to Rockford Auburn,” said Watkins. “I felt like she was always grooming me for that first head coaching job moment.”
Watkins had a very young Auburn team last season. Despite that the Knights went 15-15 and 11-6 in the NIC-10 while playing a fast-paced brand of ball. That’s how Watkins wants his RVC teams to play.
“I like to play up and down and defense. I preach it. As teams from the area have seen from the Auburn kids we’re going to get up in your face. We’re going to defend the full length of the court.”
Taylor Ignoto was RVC’s head coach last season. She moved on after accepting an assistant coaching job at the Division I level. RVC won 25 games and the N4C conference championship under her. All-American Madi Hecox led the way. She has graduated but Watkins believes RVC will simply reload with incoming recruits like Boylan guard Frankie Schiro and Hononegah’s Marissa Kershner.
As for the pressure of keeping RVC a national powerhouse, Watkins is ready to take that on.
“There’s going to be pressure, but I feel the five years that I was here under Misty kind of made it an even playing field for me a little bit. Yea I’m going to have my goosebumps…some nervousness.”
If Watkins ever needs a little advice or a word of encourgement though he need only pick up his phone and dial Opat.
“We talk every day. She just says, ‘Hey continue the beast that we’ve built there before and keep things rolling.”