When Marcus Watkins runs down the floor, he smiles. When he makes a jump shot, he smiles. Even when he misses a jump shot, he smiles. About any time you see him, he’s smiling.
“I guess it’s my facial expression, I just can’t help it,” a smiling Watkins said. “I’m out there having a good time, enjoying it while I’m out there. It’s fun. I don’t want to be out there mad all the time, because I wouldn’t be having fun and working hard.”
Sometimes, though, members of the Missouri coaching staff yell at Watkins to stop smiling. After all, they know Watkins is working hard. That is what he is supposed to do on this basketball team. Watkins isn’t one of Missouri’s biggest players, nor does he possess one of the best jump shots. Watkins’ role on the team is to hustle and work hard, to occasionally dive onto the floor for a loose ball or take a charge.
It’s what coach Mike Anderson expects of his lone senior when he plays.
“I think he’s been a constant team guy,” Anderson said. “Even from the experience he’s gained over the year. I thought he’s been valuable to our basketball team. Again, night in and night out, he’s a guy you can count on, whether he gives you one minute, two minutes or three minutes, and he’s had some games where he really helped us.”
Perhaps Watkins’ most memorable performance this season came Feb. 6 at Iowa State. In a game the Tigers needed to win to have any chance of a successful season, Watkins scored six points and grabbed four rebounds to help Missouri to a 77-55 rout of Iowa State. His impact on the game, however, was more than just points and rebounds.
He forced one held-ball, got two steals and, most memorably, ended times after diving for loose balls. After that game, Stefhon Hannah said Watkins gave the Tigers a boost.
“He brought the intensity,” Hannah said after the win. “Marcus really stepped up. I mean, he came out, he was trying to get every loose ball, he was diving on the floor and everybody else just fed off that, like ‘OK, let’s go.’ It motivated everybody else.”
Soon, however, Watkins will no longer have the chance to make those kinds of plays. In a month or so, Watkins’ college career will be finished, and he will have experienced things many college players haven’t.
At Texas A&M, where he started his career, he watched the job performance of his father, Melvin, come under scrutiny. Eventually, he had to witness his father resign from coaching the Aggies.
Then, despite getting offers to transfer to other schools, Watkins chose to come to Missouri with his father, who had been named then-head coach Quin Snyder’s assistant. In February of last year, Watkins experienced seeing another head coach lose his job.
Still, the biggest disappointment Watkins says is not getting to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“I wish I would have gone to the tournament more times than I did, but I’m OK with what I’ve done,” Watkins said.
Of all the topics Watkins was asked about, the one that made his smile the widest was his teammates.
Watkins said that no matter what he does the rest of his life, he will always cherish the relationships he had with them.
“We have a bond that is unspoken, you just can’t get it overnight,” Watkins said. “We spend so much time together. I’ll still keep in contact with the guys, but it won’t be the same.”
When Watkins does see his teammates after this season, he will undoubtedly smile.