Melvin Watkins, like most people, did not like taking a step back in his career. He did like the chance to be a part the Missouri basketball program, though.
“I’m excited to be here,” said Watkins, the Tigers’ new associate head coach. “Basketball here, I think, represents what college basketball should be about in terms of the exposure, in terms of the fan support. It’s unbelievable.”
Watkins, 49, came to Missouri after six years as head coach at Texas A&M, where he earned a 60-111 record. With 26 years of coaching experience, Watkins has coached basketball longer than any of the Missouri players have been alive.
He coached for 20 years at UNC Charlotte, his alma mater, and his two years there as head coach give him a 102-131 lifetime mark.
Before coming to Charlotte, Watkins played in the NBA with the Buffalo Braves in the 1977-78 season.
Watkins said he is glad to still be coaching in the Big 12 Conference but that he has had a little trouble transitioning out of the head-coaching position.
“There are some adjustments,” Watkins said. “You’re so accustomed to doing things a certain way and kind of ‘your way.’ And now I have to come back, and coach Snyder does a great job, but still there is an adjustment of me now going to the huddle listening a little bit more than going into the huddle and giving those directions.
“It’s been good because coach Snyder has allowed us to still coach some and be a part of that process.”
Watkins brings more than his experience to Missouri. He also brings a career of basketball connections that should help the Tigers’ recruiting.
“I think I’ve got networks out there that I can bring to the table,” Watkins said. “Obviously, Missouri has had their own network in recruiting and then here you’ve got someone else now coming in with a different network.
“As you merge those networks together, I would think it would broaden our ability to go out and recruit on a national scene.”
Watkins’ son, Marcus, followed his father to Missouri. Watkins said Marcus, a 6-4 junior guard, chose to play for the Tigers on his own.
“As (coming to Missouri) evolved and I saw that was kind of the track that I was on (Marcus) brought to my attention that he might like to look at the university,” Watkins said.
Watkins said everything has been working well so far and he hopes things can continue that way.
Watkins might have an advantage with four freshmen joining the Tigers for his first season with Missouri, but he said
more seasoned players, like Jimmy McKinney and Jason Conley, seem to be adjusting to him just fine, too.
Watkins said it has been more of an adjustment for him.
“I’ve kind of come in their house and so I didn’t come in with the idea ‘You know what guys this is the way it has to be,’” he said. “So I’ve kind of come in and sat back a little bit and just kind of watched and learned myself what makes these players tick.”
The Tigers’ extensive home stand also might make Watkins’ first year at Missouri a little easier. The team does not play a game outside the state until Jan. 11, 2005, when they face the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater, Okla.
Up to then, the only games away from Columbia will be in Kansas City Nov. 23-24, if they make the semifinals and finals of the Guardians Classic, and on Dec. 22 in St. Louis against Illinois.
Watkins said the homestand is particularly beneficial because of the Missouri fans. According to Watkins, fan support helps the Tigers increase their level of play.
“I think every time our kids run through that tunnel we know we’re going to be playing at the highest level,” Watkins said. “You’ve got the Big 12 as a conference background.
“If you come in the Paige arena, why would you ever want to leave? As a matter of fact, I think we need to petition the league and play all home games.”