It didn’t take long for the Missouri men’s basketball program to fill its vacant position of associate head coach.
The Tigers announced Monday that Melvin Watkins, the former coach at Texas A&M, will join coach Quin Snyder’s staff. Watkins will take the position that Tony Harvey resigned Friday.
“I think anytime, being a basketball coach, you can put yourself in a situation where basketball is really important,” Watkins said. “Briefly being around and talking to different people, they’re always excited about Mizzou basketball. To be a part of that, I’m sure, will get some blood flowing up and down my veins.”
Harvey was suspended with pay May 11 when the Tigers released the findings of the NCAA’s investigative findings. He stayed on the staff until the four seniors had graduated and the four incoming freshmen had enrolled.
The NCAA said in its report Harvey gave former player Ricky Clemons $250 and acted unethically when he bought meals for Athletic American Union coaches and then tried to falsify expense reports to get reimbursement.
Harvey has denied the allegation he gave Clemons money.
Snyder did not comment further on the investigation, to which the Tigers must formally respond by July 1.
Watkins said the NCAA’s investigation did not bother him.
“After talking with Quin and the people around the program, there wasn’t much hesitation,” Watkins said. “I felt comfortable with what was being said to me.”
Snyder said he wanted someone with high character to fill the position. He also cited prioritization of academics, experience and recruiting ability as reasons to hire Watkins.
Watkins said character is a fundamental principle players should have.
“I think the first thing is character,” Watkins said. “We like to teach players that. Because I feel on that court, you’re going to be in the heat of battle, and that character is going to show itself, either good or bad. That’s a great starting point.”
His credentials with the Aggies support that statement, for 15 of Watkins’ players became Academic All-Big 12 Conference first- or second-team members during his six-year tenure. In addition, 14 of 17 players who completed their eligibility graduated.
On the court with the Aggies, Watkins, 49, failed to achieve consistent success and resigned in March. The Aggies did not win a game in the Big 12 last season and finished 7-21.
In nine of the losses, though, the margin was six points or fewer.
Watkins’ career with the Aggies ended in the first round of the 2004 Big 12 Tournament in Dallas, against the Tigers.
“When you can’t beat someone,” Watkins said, “you had better join them.”
The Aggies had chances to win both games this season against the Tigers but faltered late. Missouri won the Jan. 10 meeting 82-77 in Columbia and won 74-68 on March 11 in Dallas.
At the end of his career with the Aggies, in which he went 60-111, Watkins spent some time with his family to step back from basketball. Snyder first called Watkins several weeks ago.
“When this opportunity presented itself, it wasn’t very hard or it didn’t take very long for me to get excited about wanting to get back on the hot seat, you may call it,” Watkins said. “So I’m very excited about being, what I think is, part of a program that has championship ambitions.”
Before coaching the Aggies, Watkins coached a program with championship aspirations. He spent 20 years coaching at Charlotte, two successful seasons as head coach. Under Watkins, the 49ers were 42-20 with two wins in the NCAA Tournament’s first round and a Conference USA Division Championship in 1997.
Watkins, who played at Charlotte from 1973-77, also earned the 1997 Conference USA Coach of the Year award.
Watkins joins the Tigers in time for the crucial July recruiting period. He should offer connections in Texas and North Carolina.
“(The connections are) something you hope you never let go of, and surely we will lean on some of those,” Watkins said. “I just have to come in and get my feet wet. They’ve done a great job of recruiting here so it’s not like I have to try to reinvent the wheel. I just got to come in and fit in and see where my niche works for this program.”
Watkins’ hiring fills one of the assistant coaching vacancies on the Tigers’ staff. The Tigers have not hired anyone to take Lane Odom’s assistant job. Odom resigned May 11 after the release of the NCAA’s investigation, and Snyder said there is no timetable to hire a replacement.