One of the longest tenured coaches in NCAA women’s basketball history, Wanda Watkins has gathered countless honors and milestones during her 34-year stay at Campbell.
Entering her 34th year as head coach of the Lady Camel program in 2014-15, Watkins is the 25th winningest active coach in the Division I ranks, and is approaching women’s basketball’s top-50 in all-time wins.
Watkins is the 10th Division I women’s basketball coach in NCAA history to coach 30 or more seasons at the same institution. Watkins is one of seven on the active coaching list.
She is by far the all-time wins leader in Lady Camel basketball history. Since taking over as head coach in 1981, Watkins has led her teams to a 498-401 (.550) mark and has recorded 21 winning seasons.
In her time at Campbell, Watkins has become established among the upper echelon of collegiate women’s basketball coaches. She is the 2013-14 Big South Conference Captain for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA).
The 2008 Johnston Country Sports Hall of Fame inductee is the Atlantic Sun’s all-time conference wins leader, and ranks sixth in Big South league history in conference victories, despite 17 seasons away from the league.
Even more impressive, however, is the fact that over 95 pct. of the women’s basketball players at Campbell have earned undergraduate degrees since Watkins became head coach.
After placing a program-record 10 student-athletes on the Atlantic Sun All-Academic Team in 2006-07, seven student-athletes earned academic all-conference honors in 2010-11.
Watkins’ Academic Progress Rate portfolio, released by the NCAA over the summer of 2013, ranks among the best in the nation. In the most recent report, reflecting the 2011-12 academic year, Watkins scored a 995 rating, well above the national average. In fact, Campbell has graded out above the national average in each year since the rating was created in 2003. Watkins has fourth perfect scores in eight seasons.
The 1979 Campbell graduate has led her teams to conference championship games on 10 occasions, winning the 1989 Big South and 2000 Atlantic Sun tournament titles. In addition, Campbell was the 1988 (co-champion) and 1991 Big South regular season champion, as well as the 2001 A-Sun regular season champion.
Under Watkins’ guidance, 47 players have earned all-conference honors, with 20 in the Big South and 27 during the program’s time in the A-Sun.
The Lady Camels had a resurgence last season as the team posted its first 20-win season since 2000-01. It took a dramatic 24-point comeback in the Big South Championship Quarterfinals to beat High Point in overtime, 74-73, to hit that plateau before falling to Liberty in the semifinals. The win was Campbell’s first in a postseason tournament since 2001.
The 20-13 overall and 11-7 Big South record was the 21st winning season in program history. Tonisha Baker was named to the league’s first team, while Kiera Gaines earned second team honors.
Baker eventually signed a professional contract with the Marburg Blue Dolphins in the German DBBL. Former Lady Camels ‘great April Cromartie (1998-02) also signed with Marburg, while Regina McKeithan (1984-88) played for Luxemburg.
In 2012-13, Watkins led Campbell to an 18-12 mark overall and 11-7 record in the programs first season in the Big South since 1993, including capturing six of the final seven regular season contests with the lone loss, 66-67, coming in overtime. The Lady Camels earned a No. 4 seed entering the Big South tournament, but fell in their first round contest to Charleston Southern.
Receiving postseason recognition was junior Tonisha Baker with second team all-conference honors, while Kiera Gaines earned acknowledgement on the all-freshman team.
During the 2010-11 campaign, Watkins piloted the Lady Camels to one of the biggest midseason turnarounds in the country, winning eight games in the month of January alone, and leading the team to its second-consecutive No. 3 seed in the A-Sun Tournament.
For the eighth time, a Lady Camel was named First Team All-Atlantic Sun, as Baker collected all-conference honors. Campbell took season sweeps from Jacksonville, Mercer and Lipscomb on the year, and added historic performances in home wins over North Florida, East Tennessee State and USC Upstate.
The Lady Camels topped UNF in a double overtime thriller before edging ETSU in late February. The win was program’s first ever over the Buccaneers. In the Campbell home finale, the Lady Camels exploded for 98 points, a Gore Arena record, in a 28-point drubbing of USC Upstate, as Baker posted 30 points. Lauren Yesh and Jazmine Cooper, meanwhile, added double-doubles in the final game of the regular season.
In 2010, Watkins coached Baker, then a rookie, to A-Sun All-Freshman honors. The guard from High Point, N.C. led the Lady Camels in scoring, field goal pct. and blocks, while ranking second in steals, assists and minutes played. Baker posted the A-Sun’s third-best field goal pct. at .487, leading all guards and freshmen, while becoming the first Lady Camel freshman to lead her team in scoring since April Cromartie in 1998-99.
Campbell ended the 2009-10 season with the program’s most overall wins, 14, since 2001, and A-Sun wins since 2006, while tallying 70 or more points 11 times, and 80 points on four occasions. Those marks are program single-season highs since Campbell hit 70 points 15 times during the 2001 season and 80 points eight times that same year.
Marlena Murphy was a second team all-league honoree in 2008 after grabbing first team accolades as a junior, ranking among the league’s leaders in scoring and rebounding both years.
Adrienne Rieley was also named to the A-Sun All-Conference Second Team and to the North Carolina All-State Second-Team under Watkins’ direction.
In 2004-05, Letitia Dickson was named to the A-Sun All-Freshman Team. In 2003-04, five players posted 100-plus rebounding seasons (only the third time in program history), eight different players led Campbell in scoring and the bench contributed nearly 50 pct. of the season’s points.
The women’s program was further honored with the selection of former standout April Cromartie, who received the most votes of any candidate, to the Atlantic Sun Conference 25th Anniversary team in 2003.
Watkins etched her name in the record books by winning her 400th game on February 16, 2006. The Lady Camels defeated Mercer 68-58 in Macon, Ga. making her the 39th active coach to reach 400 career wins at the time.
The Lady Camels also reached a historic milestone when they recorded the program’s 300th NCAA Division I victory over Gardner-Webb, 59-50, on Feb. 4, 2004 in Carter Gym. Watkins picked up her 375th career win on December 20, 2003 with a 61-56 decision over UNC Greensboro marking the first time the Lady Camels had ever beaten the Spartans.
Further, the program made their longest road trip in the history of the program in 2005 traveling across the Pacific Ocean to play the Hawaii in a pair of games before Christmas.
In 2002-03, Watkins’ team was the youngest in the Atlantic Sun, but still managed to qualify for the eight-team league tournament for the ninth-consecutive year. With 10 freshmen and sophomores on the 13-player roster, the Lady Camels showed promise as 10 different players scored in double figures in a game. Jennifer Lodge, another former Lady Camel in the collegiate coaching ranks, now at Gannon University, was selected to the A-Sun All-Freshman Team. Watkins’ 22nd squad reached a historical benchmark during the season as well. In a 49-42 win over Samford on January, 23, 2003 the Lady Camels picked up the 450th win in program history.
In 2001-02, Watkins led Campbell to the Atlantic Sun Tournament after posting an 11-9 record in conference play, marking the 16th time the Lady Camels have recorded a winning conference record since 1986 when the program was first affiliated with an NCAA Division I conference.
During the 2001 campaign, Watkins earned her fourth Coach of the Year honor, eight players earned A-Sun All-Academic honors, Cromartie was named the A-Sun Player of the Year and Crystal Clary was named the Freshman of the Year by the league’s coaches.
Sara Moore added to the team’s list of multiple honors when she became the third women’s basketball player to receive CoSIDA Academic All-America honors. Moore was also named the Atlantic Sun Female Student-Athlete of the Year.
The 2000-01 Campbell yearbook, the Pine Burr, was dedicated to Watkins.
Watkins guided the Lady Camel program to two conference tournament titles, most recently in March 2000 when the squad defeated Georgia State 66-49 to win the A-Sun crown and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. The 1999-2000 team, which lost to Duke in the first round of the national tourney, posted a 22-9 record, marking the fifth 20-win season for the Lady Camels.
On Feb. 6, 1999, Watkins notched her 300th career win over Florida Atlantic (64-63) in Boca Raton, Fla. Her 200th coaching victory came on Dec. 10, 1992, when the Lady Camels defeated Mount Olive, 88-61, in Buies Creek.
In her first five seasons as Campbell’s head coach, Watkins led the Lady Camels into postseason play despite the fact that the program was not affiliated with a conference.
The Lady Camels advanced to the AIAW Division II state and regional tournaments in 1982, Watkins’ first year as head coach. The next four seasons, the Lady Camels participated in the NAIA District 26 playoffs and the 1985 and 1986 squads advanced to the district title game.
Campbell reached the Big South Conference finals in both 1987 and 1988 before winning the league championship at Radford in 1989.
In 1991, Watkins led the Lady Camels to their first unbeaten Big South Conference regular season schedule (12-0) and the team’s fourth 20-win season. Watkins also led Campbell to six Big South Tournament Championship appearances in the program’s eight years in the league.
Under Watkins’ leadership, the Lady Camels compiled their first 20-win season in their last year at the NAIA level (1985-86), then repeated the feat in their first campaign as a NCAA Division I member (1986-87). One year later, the Lady Camels registered a school-record 23-5 slate. The 1990-91 club just missed tying that mark with a 22-7 season.
In addition to her coaching achievements, Watkins holds a very special place in Campbell athletics history. She was the school’s first female athletic scholarship recipient after graduating from nearby South Johnston High School in 1975. She was a member of SJHS’s 1974 North Carolina state championship team.
She served as team captain of the Lady Camel basketball squad as a senior and captained the softball team for three years. Despite suffering an injury in part of her final campaign, Watkins was named MVP of the 1978-79 team and selected as Campbell’s Outstanding Female Athlete.
Her leadership ability led to Watkins’ appointment as a graduate assistant coach of the women’s basketball team in 1979-80 and as the school’s first full-time assistant coach the following year. She also served as Campbell’s softball coach in 1981. A year later, Watkins succeeded Betty Jo Clary as head women’s basketball coach.
Watkins resides in Clayton and is a longtime member of Oakland Presbyterian Church. She is an active member of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
She recently completed a three year term on the WBCA State Farm All-America Selection Committee. Watkins has also served as the Division I Women’s Basketball Mid-Eastern Regional Advisory Committee and is a former chair of the Atlantic Sun Women’s Basketball Committee.
Watkins earned a B.S. degree in physical education in 1979. She also holds a masters degree in education with an emphasis in physical education (Campbell, ‘81) and has completed an add-on certification in counseling (Campbell, ‘88).