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This feature story is from the February 2006 issue of the Pack Pride Magazine. To learn more about the publication and how to subscribe, click on the link below ...

  • Pack Pride The Magazine

    Q & A With Levi Watkins
    Pack Pride talks one-on-one with the former Wolfpack standout and current Administrative Assistant.

    Pack Pride Magazine
    February 2006
    WORDS: Scott Vogelsberg
    PHOTOS: Jason Cole

    fter a heralded prep career at Montrose Christian Academy in Rockville, Md., Levi Watkins signed with the Wolfpack as part of one of the finest recruiting classes in the land, joining Julius Hodge, Josh Powell, Jordan Collins and Ilian Evtimov. Injuries hampered much of Watkins' career, but the 6-8, 235-pounder helped the Pack to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. As a senior, he averaged 3.9 points and 1.4 rebounds in 25 games, with 14 starts. He posted three double-digit scoring efforts during the campaign.

    Following graduation in May, Watkins took one day off before working for coach Herb Sendek and the Wolfpack as a graduate assistant administrative intern. Watkins took some time recently to speak to Pack Pride about embarking on his new career in the coaching profession.

    How long have you known that you wanted to pursue coaching?
    Well, in the back of my mind, I always knew that I wasn't going to be playing basketball for the rest of my life. So in the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted to coach or be around basketball. Due to injuries and some other circumstances, it came earlier. And I'm just grateful that I had the opportunity to come back to my alma mater and also learn from a coach like Coach Sendek.

    Did you know going into your senior year that's the path you wanted to follow?
    Not really going into my senior year, but in the back of my mind, I knew I had a few options. That was always there, but not really a prominent one in the beginning.

    What do you think of the coaching life so far?
    I really like it. Like I said, I'm just grateful to be at my alma mater and learn from a coach like Coach Sendek, because he's so demanding of his players, of his coaching staff, of his managers … everything. He's so demanding, and he pays great [attention to] detail in everything that he does. So he's just a great person to learn from.

    What's been the biggest surprise of coaching thus far?
    I knew as a player that, while we were at class, the coaches were up there watching film, making their recruiting calls. [But] I didn't know it was that magnitude, because you're constantly working. Even after practice, you go home and eat dinner, and you're text-messaging back and forth with recruits or talking to high school coaches. I didn't know. I really knew that it was a lot of work, but I didn't know it was to that magnitude.

    "I'm just grateful that I had the opportunity to come back to my alma mater and also learn from a coach like Coach Sendek."

    What does your job entail at this point?
    Right now, I handle all the day-to-day operation things. I make sure the guys are where they need to be, at what time. I have my own part in recruiting: I look for younger players, I talk to high school coaches, I talk to a couple recruits, too, that I know from the area in Maryland where I'm from. I do a lot of that stuff, day to day.

    How different is it to look at players now in terms of how they might fit at NC State, instead of in terms of how to play against them?
    It's a lot different. I got my degree in business management, and that's helped me out a lot… My concentration was marketing, and now I look at it as, "How can NC State be appealing to a prospect?" That's how I look at it now. In school, I was looking at how businesses could be appealing to a potential customer. But now the customer is a prospect—a talented prospect, because we're in the ACC and we're looking for the best players and student-athletes we can find.

    That's really the reason why I majored in [business management], because I think that business is everywhere. And it's helped.

    Do you miss playing a lot?
    Yeah, definitely, because it's been a part of my life since second grade. I played basketball every day; I would go home, do my homework, and then I would go outside and play. So I still play some now, but it's definitely [different] playing against the other staff members [laughing], compared to other ACC athletes. But anytime that I can enjoy myself playing the game that I love to be around … So it's tough, but it helps you see—in my case—past teammates improve and to succeed. Because I've had my chance; now, it's their time.

    Do you ever wonder "What if?" you hadn't experienced the injuries, what you might be doing now?
    Not really. I just kind of played the hand I was dealt. I always think in the back of my mind, maybe this or that, but I never really dwell on it. [Those are] the cards that I was dealt.

    You've been friends with Tony Bethel since childhood and you came in in the same class as Ilian Evtimov. How different is it to be working with them now instead of playing with them?
    It's kind of different, especially with Tony and Ilian, because I played high school basketball with Tony; we played AAU for a long time. And me and Ilian, this is his fifth year here and this is my fifth year here, and we've gone through a lot of battles on the injury side and all types of things. It's different, but I get their input and they ask me my input and we try to figure what Coach Sendek is thinking on this thing or that. I'm just here to kind of help them and also be a voice in Coach Sendek's ear. It's always good to have former players on the staff. With me and Arch, we can show and we can give Coach Sendek insight that other people can't.

    "It's tough, but it helps you see—in my case—past teammates improve and to succeed. Because I've had my chance; now, it's their time."

    You had an injury-plagued career at NC State and have talked in the past about how you and Evtimov talked a lot about rehab. Now Bethel has had a lot of physical problems since he got to Raleigh. How much do you have to talk to him, and do you see that as one of your roles with the Pack, helping injured players deal with rehabilitation and such?
    Yeah. Throughout the whole time, since me and Ilian got here, you're always [asking], "How is your knee feeling today?" We talked about that, and being out so long; we were both out for nine months, and it's hard, [because] the game you love and you play every day is taken from you. I talk to Tony, and sometimes it's good not to say anything because everywhere you go … You go to class, it's "How are you doing?" You come to practice, everybody on the team is asking, "How are you doing?" The coaches ask you, "How are you doing?" So it's good to see that Tony's out there now and getting back to his normal self.

    Now that you are involved in some capacity in recruiting, can you compare the perception of NC State now with how it was when you were being recruited as a player five years ago?
    It's definitely changed a lot. I mean, we went to four consecutive NCAA tournaments. [Back] then, we were coming off a losing season … So it's definitely different now. We're on TV consistently and we play in the best conference in the country, so NC State is perceived a lot different from when I was coming out of high school.

    When you think back on your playing career, what are some of the highlights for you?
    It would definitely be us going to the Sweet Sixteen and making it four years in a row going to the NCAA Tournament. That was a good ending to my playing career. It was a great experience.

    What do you think of the makeup of this year's team?
    We have great expectations for this team. We have 10 really good players who are really interchangeable, and we're expecting great things from them.

    What do you think of rookie big men Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley? What is your involvement with the freshmen?
    They have a lot of talent. It's such a big difference coming from high school to college, especially here at NC State. You're in the ACC and we run a complex offense, and that's another way that I help. I help with the freshmen and I talk to them on a daily basis and try to help them out [with] "You need to be here" and "This is how you should do it." Because your schedule is so structured; every day, you get up early and go to class, practice, then right after practice, you eat, then you go back to study hall … And that's an every-day thing. You're just helping them. They come in in the summer and that helps them out, but once the season rolls around, you're tired and you know you know you have to go here and go there and you have to get up early. So I try to help them out with that.

    "I definitely would like to be a coach on the Division I level. Wherever that may be, I would definitely love to do that. It's hard now, because I'm on the administrative side and I can't coach, but I definitely want to be a Division I coach someday."

    How is your relationship with Coach Sendek different now than it was as a player? Do you have a different kind of appreciation for him now?
    To be honest, it's not that much different. Even as a player, he treats each of his players as his own children. At the same time, he demands so much, not just on the court, but in school and how you handle yourself. And it's the same way as a coworker, per se: He expects me to do whatever tasks I have that day, and he expects me not only to do them, but do them well.

    What are some of the things you can learn from Coach Sendek and use as you pursue your own career?
    With Coach Sendek, he prepares for everything. He's really big on preparation and getting ready to play whoever we play, regardless if it's Duke or another school. He's really big on preparation, and that's one thing he's really instilled in me.

    Your former teammate, Archie Miller, took a similar path before landing his current job as a Wolfpack assistant. Do you ever talk to him about the road to being a coach?
    We talk about that some. When he first came on [the staff at NC State], he was in the same position I was. Then he went to Western Kentucky and actually did some coaching, and then he came back, and he's on the court. So he's helped me out. It's kind of hard and I know it definitely was hard for him, because he's constantly chattering and trying to coach. But being on the administrative side, you can't do those things.

    What are some of your goals in coaching? Where do you see yourself down the road?
    I definitely would like to be a coach on the Division I level. Wherever that may be, I would definitely love to do that. It's hard now, because I'm on the administrative side and I can't coach, but I definitely want to be a Division I coach someday.

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