Watkins saw potential in A&M players
Published Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Melvin Watkins might be tempted to ponder what could have been as he sits on the Missouri bench tonight at Mizzou Arena.
With that ending, it seems natural to label Watkins’ run in College Station, Texas, a failure. But the success the Aggies have enjoyed since Watkins departed has shown he left the program in better shape than most imagined.
"I was trying to tell people, I knew we were going to drop off a little" after a 14-14 season in 2002-03, Watkins said. "Acie" Law IV "is a freshman, Antoine Wright’s a sophomore. I know we had potential pros on the team. We just needed a little more time.
"As you look back, the close games that we had. We didn’t win those games, but I could see in our guys’ faces that we were going to start winning ballgames. But, of course, the clock ran out."
When it did, Watkins, who resigned under pressure, moved north to Missouri, joining Quin Snyder’s staff as associate head coach. He moved into the head-coaching chair on an interim basis after Snyder’s resignation last week.
Taking the seat Watkins vacated at Texas A&M was Billy Gillispie, the former Texas-El Paso coach. He has guided the Aggies to a 37-17 record since. Winners of three straight, Texas A&M (16-7, 6-6 Big 12) has moved into a tie for fifth in the Big 12 standings.
Law and Joseph Jones, both Watkins recruits, have led the way. They form one of the best inside-out combinations in the Big 12.
Law, a 6-foot-3 junior point guard, has stepped up his scoring this season since Wright moved on to the NBA. Law has averaged a team-best 16.4 points and 3.7 assists.
Watkins said he expected that sort of production when he recruited Law from Kimball High School in Dallas, although Law endured some growing pains.
Jones, on the other hand, made an immediate impact in college, but not for Watkins. The Normangee, Texas, product signed with the Aggies in November 2003, but by the time he arrived on the A&M campus, Watkins had departed.
He averaged 12.7 points and 7.3 rebounds last season. He’s raised his scoring average to 16.3 points to go along with 6.9 rebounds.
"Joseph Jones is a handful down low, and he really works," Watkins said. "Not only does he work, but they really look to get him the basketball. We’ve got to somehow try to eliminate his touches and not give him those lanes to the basket. I don’t know that many teams have stopped him."
The Aggies know they can lean on Law and Jones in pressure situations, which is one of the reasons A&M has been so successful in close games this season. The team has won five consecutive games decided by five points or less.
"It’s a credit to those guys never panicking," Gillispie said. "They don’t think that they’re ever out of a game, no matter what happens. If we ever get a lead, we don’t think anything’s over."
The Aggies’ opponent tonight has had a hard time sticking close. The Tigers have dropped seven of their last eight games, and all seven losses have come by double-digit margins, including Saturday’s 79-46 pummeling by Kansas.
Adding to the on-court frustration has been the sadness and anger of seeing their coach leave before the season ended.
"The kids have been through a lot," Watkins said. "We came in yesterday, and I think they were looking for the world just to fall down on them. I had to pick them up some. The season’s not over with, and we’ve got four games left. … Let’s see what we can do."
Reach Steve Walentik at (573) 815-1788 or email@example.com.
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