A coaching veteran at the highest levels, Melvin Watkins completed his eighth year as associate head coach with the Razorbacks in 2018-19. A 42-year coaching career has seen him as a long-time assistant, associate head and head coach at Charlotte, Texas A&M and Missouri.
As Arkansas’ recruiting coordinator and associate head coach, Watkins’ prowess on the recruiting trails has made its impact at Arkansas. In 2013, the Razorbacks ushered in the No. 18 ranked recruiting class according to ESPN, which featured a pair of top-50 recruits. He also helped orchestrate a top 25 class in 2017, featuring four of the top five players in the state of Arkansas, including three of those coming to Fayetteville as four-star prospects by ESPN. For the 2018-19 season, the Razorback newcomers were ranked 25th nationally, including the top three players in Arkansas and the #29 power forward in the nation.
While at Arkansas, the Razorbacks made five postseason appearances over the last six seasons including three in the NCAA (2015, 2017 and 2018) and two at the NIT (2014 and 2019). Arkansas’169 wins over the last eight season rank third-most in the SEC while the 78 league wins rank fourth-best.
Working with the post players, Watkins helped develop Daniel Gafford into one of the top big men in the country over the past two seasons. In 2018-19, Gafford was a consensus first-team All-SEC pick – becoming just the sixth Razorback to be such honored – while also being named to the SEC All-Defensive team – the first Razorback to be both first team All-SEC and All-Defensive in the same season. Gafford was additionally a top 10 finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award as well as being All-District by the USBWA and NABC. The El Dorado native ranked fifth in the NCAA in field goal percentage – leading the SEC by 95 percentage points – while being the only player to rank among the SEC top five – much less top 10 – in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, field goal percentage, offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds.
The Razorbacks posted the seventh-most wins in program history in 2016-17, as the coaching staff led the squad to 12 SEC wins for the fifth time in school history and captured six conference road victories, tying the 1994 championship team and the 2015 NCAA Tournament squad for the most in the SEC era. The Razorbacks ended the season 8-3 in their last 11 SEC road contests, the best stretch since the end of the 1993-94 and beginning of the 1994-95 seasons. Arkansas used its second-best free throw percentage in school history (.761) to post a 4-0 record in games decided by one possession and a perfect 24-0 mark when leading with two minutes left in the contest.
In 2014-15, the Razorback fans caught a glimpse of the glory days, as Arkansas returned to the NCAA Tournament and SEC Tournament championship game for the first time since 2008. Highlighted by a victory over Southern Conference champ Wofford in the NCAA Tournament second round and a program record six SEC road wins, Arkansas produced the sixth-most wins in program history with a 27-9 record. Of course, the “Fastest 40” reached another level, as the Razorbacks led the SEC in five different statistical categories, including scoring (77.4), assists (16.1) and turnover margin (+3.8).
Watkins was instrumental in the recruitment and development of Bobby Portis, as he became just the second Razorback in program history to be named the SEC Player of the Year by both the Associated Press and league head coaches in 2014-15. Portis was the first Razorback to surpass 1,000 points and 500 rebounds as a sophomore and went on to become the 12th player in program history to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, when he went 22nd overall to the Chicago Bulls.
Prior to Arkansas, Watkins’ formed a partnership with head coach Mike Anderson during the 2004-05 season as Watkins was retained on staff at Missouri when Anderson took the head coaching duties at the school. The dynamic combination immediately turned Missouri into a winning program, as the team went 18-12 in their first year together. Two years later, Missouri danced into the Elite Eight and won the Big 12 Tournament, reaching heights the Tigers had not seen in many years.
One of the best recruiters and assistants in the nation, Watkins was named the Top Assistant Coach in both 2009 and 2010 by Rivals.com, as he helped Missouri advance to a pair of NCAA Tournaments, go a combined 54-18 and win the Big 12 Tournament Championship during those years.
Watkins joined the Missouri staff following an eight-year run as a head coach at both Texas A&M and his alma mater Charlotte. He spent six years roaming the sidelines for the Aggies between 1999 and 2004 and helped rebuild the struggling program. His efforts in recruiting landed him eight top 100 recruits, including Texas A&M’s No. 4 all-time leading scorer Bernard King, 2005 NBA first round pick Antoine Wright and 2007 first team All-American and former Chicago Bull Acie Law.
A stickler for recruiting players that are accountable both on the floor and in life, Watkins places a heavy demand on his players’ academic pursuits. While head coach at Texas A&M, 14 of the 17 players who completed their eligibility went on to earn a degree, while the remaining three went on to play professional basketball. His players during that time earned 15 Academic All-Big 12 first or second team honors.
Prior to landing the head coaching job at Texas A&M, Watkins was the head coach at Charlotte for two seasons and led his team to a pair of 20-win campaigns and two NCAA Tournaments. After a 19-year stint with the 49ers as an assistant and associate head coach, Watkins was given the head coaching title for the 1997 season and led his squad to a 22-9 mark and second round appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The fantastic first year for Watkins earned him Conference USA Ray Meyer Coach of the Year honors, while his second year at the helm of the program saw him guide the 49ers to another second round NCAA Tournament run.
Charlotte fans knew about Watkins long before he took over the program, as he was an All-Conference point guard for the school from 1973-77 and led the 49ers to the Final Four in 1977. Watkins then served as an assistant coach at the school for 10 years before being promoted to associate head coach, a position that he served in for nine years.
Following his standout career on the hardwood as a collegiate, Watkins was drafted by the Buffalo Braves in the fourth round of the 1977 draft. His No. 32 at Charlotte was retired following his senior season along with teammate Cedric Maxwell’s No. 33.
Watkins’s prep career at Reidsville High School saw him earn high school All-America honors as a senior in 1973. That season he acted as team captain and led his team to a state championship. Watkins was a three-year starter for Reidsville.
Along with his myriad of duties as a coach, Watkins has found time to be an invaluable member of the Columbia, Missouri; College Station, Texas; and Charlotte, North Carolina, communities. He is an active participant in Habitat for Humanity “Home Building Project,” was a co-chair of the Battered Women’s Shelter and is a member of the “100 Black Men of Charlotte” organization, a nationally known group that mentors young people and raises funds to assist individuals in their efforts to attend college.
Watkins and his wife Burrell are the parents of two sons, Manuale and Marcus, and a daughter, Keia. Marcus played basketball for Missouri, Keia is a graduate of the Missouri Medical School and Manuale completed his four-year Razorback career in 2017 and graduated from the University of Arkansas. Watkins is also the grandfather to Nathan, Eli and Miles, Keia and her husband David’s three sons.