A&M coach receives extension

Texas A&M basketball coach Melvin Watkins signed a three-year contract extension last week. He answered questions about his job security at the same time.

Such is the state of basketball in this football-crazed state.

“Nobody’s trying to run me off. There’s none of that,” Watkins told the Bryan-College Station Eagle, responding to speculation the contract extension came with a cheap buyout clause. “They want me to be successful here. I want to be successful. If they really don’t want to extend the contract, to see what you can do, then that’s a different ballgame.”

There are skeptics, though, wondering if Watkins, whose Aggies will take a 7-5 record into today’s 3:05 p.m. Big 12 Conference home game against 10-2 Kansas University, will be shown the door if A&M fails for a 10th straight season to reach the NCAA Tournament.

“To me, it (job security) is not an issue,” said Watkins, whose best record was last year’s 14-14 mark. Previously he went 42-20 with two NCAA berths in two years at UNC-Charlotte.

He thinks the Aggies, 0-1 in the league, can make the postseason this year.

“Being my sixth year, I think it’s a realistic goal for our fans to expect us to get to postseason play,” Watkins said. “You can’t continue to be in programs, particularly a program of this stature, and just be so-so.”

A victory over Kansas today just might be necessary to make NCAA selection committee members forget troubling losses to Oakland, Mich., (90-58) and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (82-80). The Corpus Christi game was played at Reed Arena, site of today’s contest.

“Starting off, this team had to establish its identity,” Watkins told the Associated Press. “You don’t lose a player the caliber of (last year’s leading scorer) Bernard King without it having some effect. I’m not sure we knew who we were. We dropped a couple of games we shouldn’t have.”

Helping Watkins is the fact the coach is known as a good recruiter. He’s brought in 6-foot-7 Antoine Wright, who is considered an NBA prospect.

Wright, a sophomore who averages 15 points a game, had averaged 23 points in four games prior to last Saturday’s loss at Missouri, in which he went 5-of-17 from the field for 14 points.

“Early on in the season the scouts’ presence really affected me, but lately I’ve been able to calm down and just play my game,” Wright told the San Antonio Express-News. “I was never in a slump. I’d just missed a couple of shots, that’s all.

“Over that stretch, when I had some bad games, I was putting too much pressure on myself. It wasn’t from anyone else. Coach wasn’t saying anything. It was just me rushing my shots and taking bad shots.”

Watkins likes Wright’s attitude.

“Antoine is stepping up now and playing better,” Watkins told the AP. “He got off to a slow start, and that put pressure on the team because we look to him as the go-to guy. It affected our mind-set.”