UMBC's Watkins learns versatility has its price


Brian Watkins did it his way, but he does mention a few regrets.

A regular at UMBC since he joined the Retrievers in 1989, Watkins is a do-it-all forward who's six rebounds away from becoming the first player in Retrievers history to compile 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 250 assists. He'll be hitting the boards on his 22nd birthday Thursday, when sixth-seeded UMBC (11-15) plays No. 3 and defending champion Campbell in the quarterfinals of the Big South Conference tournament in Charleston, S.C.

Watkins has done whatever coach Earl Hawkins has asked -- two years ago UMBC created the point forward position for him -- but the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder wonders if he's taken the jack-of-all-trades bit too far.

"I don't think I'm where I should be as a basketball player," Watkins said. "You can tell my perimeter game isn't the best, and it hurts trying to play in the low post when you're only 6-4. My problem is that long ago, I wasn't working on some of the skills I needed. Instead of working on my ball-handling and shooting when I was a kid, I was playing other sports."

Regardless of the season, Watkins was a regular at the Camp Springs Boys and Girls Club in Prince George's County.

Through middle school, his winters were split between basketball and ice hockey, and he'd still rather watch Denis Savard than Dennis Rodman.

At Crossland High, Watkins was an all-county selection in soccer, scoring 15 goals as a senior, and baseball, in which he pitched and played third base.

There was little doubt that Watkins would go up Interstate 95 to UMBC. The Crossland coach through Watkins' junior year was Hawkins, and after Hawkins headed to UMBC and Walt Williams to Maryland, Watkins stepped up and became one of Prince George's best in 1988-89.

Watkins played nearly 20 minutes a game as a UMBC freshman and broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore. He was the Retrievers' Unsung Hero the past two years, and this season he's averaging a career-high 11.7 points on 51.8 percent shooting, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 steals.

"His versatility is his strong suit," Hawkins said. "He began the year at the four [power forward] position but moved to the three [small forward] when Artie Walker got hurt. He defends well inside and out, and still helps break the other team's pressure when we need him to. Brian can do so many things, I don't know where we're going to find someone to replace him."

Watkins' talents include ambidexterity. He's a natural right-hander whose father taught him to shoot left, and many coaches, including Hawkins in the ninth grade, tried to change him back. Last Saturday against Towson State, Watkins scored 10 points with his left hand and threw an inbounds pass 75 feet into the Retrievers' basket with his right.

Two seconds from the end of regulation, it didn't count. UMBC went on to lose in double overtime, denying Watkins and fellow seniors Dana Harris and Emmanuel Fasaye a shot at clinching the best record they've had in their four seasons at UMBC.

"We haven't done as well as we expected," Watkins said. "We've had a lot of talent in the past but didn't play together. As the season's progressed, people have understood how to play as a a team, and we're going down there really thinking that we can win it."

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