GAMEDAY AT BWA Q&A – Sophomore Manuale Watkins (@ManualeWatkins)
A walk-on graduate of Fayetteville High School, Manuale Watkins saw playing time in eight games his freshman season. After an off season full of hard work, the now-sophomore has hit the ground running, proving himself to be a defensive staple on the 2014-15 Razorback team. On Wednesday against ACC foe Wake Forest, Watkins finished with five steals, which is two more than he had all of last season. A team player through and through, Watkins has confidence that he and his teammates can go the distance this season.
It’s your second season as a Razorback. What do you think the team has improved upon the most since last season?
Manuale: “We’ve gained experience- with Bobby coming back for his second year, Moses coming back for his second year and all of our juniors who have gone through it for two years. I really think we’re experienced and we know what to expect now. We know the grind of the season and we’re just staying focused. We never get too high or too low on ourselves. Coach likes to preach staying level, and I think the team does a good job of doing that.”
How do you feel you have grown as a student athlete from last year to this?
Manuale: “Really just in confidence I think. It’s my second year and the game is slowing down and I’m calmer out there. Just getting older, that helps too. Then my teammates, of course, make it a lot easier because they’re out there working hard too. So it makes me want to work that much harder.”
What is it like playing for Arkansas with your father as associate head coach?
Manuale: “I like it. I like seeing him all the time. A lot of people ask me if it’s hard having him as a coach and a parent, but I think it’s fun. He’s never been able to coach me because he’s always been a college coach – he’s always been on the road or coaching at his own school, but now I’m one of his players so it’s really fun.”
What is the most important thing for the team to focus on in order to make it to the NCAA tournament this season?
Manuale: “We all just have to stay committed to what we’re doing. I think last year, we had a bunch of committed guys, but we struggled finishing at times. So I think if we all just stay committed and focused on the task at hand, we’ll be great. But we’re not thinking about the tournament right now. We’re thinking about Delaware State because it’s the next game coming up.”
You graduated from Fayetteville High School. What is it like playing in front of a hometown crowd at Bud Walton?
Manuale: “It’s definitely fun. After the game yesterday, a couple of my high school coaches came up to me and said, ‘It’s fun watching you play here, but we wish you were back playing in the Fayetteville purple.’ I moved here when I was a junior in high school, but I’ve made a lot of friends in the community and it’s fun knowing that they come to support the team. Fayetteville is home.”
Team chemistry seems to be strong this year. Describe that.
Manuale: “With this team, we all know our roles and we’re all good at playing our roles. You can just see it in the locker room – nobody thinks they’re above the team, nobody thinks they’re better than the next guy, everybody’s focused on one goal and that’s winning. I think that can take us a long way. We’re close, we do stuff together both on and off the court. We’ve got a special group of guys here and every one of them I’d do anything for. They know I have their back and I know they have mine.”
You finished with five steals against Wake Forest, two more than you had all of last season. What is it that you think you did in the off season that contributed most to your improvement this season?
Manuale: “I just stayed in the gym every single day. That’s the main thing. I was in there mornings and nights and in the middle of the day I was working with the team. I also watched film, which was something I hadn’t done that much previously in my collegiate career. I’d never really thought about it, but it really helps because I can see what good players do and I can kind of imitate them. And then, I just focused on playing hard. I’m not worried about scoring, I just want to win.”
Arkansas beat Wake Forest by an impressive 30 points on Wednesday, what was it that the team did to be so successful in that game?
Manuale: “We played together. Everybody was passing it around, sharing it around. Then on the defensive end, we did not let up. We were just relentless on the defensive end, we would not stop. I think if we can bring that mindset to every game, we’ll be really good.”