BUIES CREEK — A pillar of Campbell University for nearly five decades, Wanda Watkins will retire following the 2023-24 season.
A Big South and Campbell University Hall of Fame coach and administrator, Watkins spent 37 years coaching at Campbell, including 35 seasons as women’s basketball head coach before retiring after the 2015-16 season, winning 549 games before serving in athletics administration for the last seven years.
“Coach Watkins means so much, not only to our women’s basketball program and athletics department, but to Campbell University and the community,” said CU Director of Athletics Hannah Bazemore. “She has given so much, impacting countless lives over the course of her coaching career and now in athletics administration. Her impact has helped make Campbell the special place it is, and we’re so happy for her to be able to enjoy retirement following this season.”
Campbell Athletics is also pleased to announce Wanda Watkins Day on November 18 when the women’s basketball team hosts Western Carolina at the Pope Convocation Center / Gore Arena. The celebration will gather former players, coaches, colleagues and the greater community around the celebration.
“This has been an unimaginable journey of a lifetime for me,” said Watkins. “I could not have asked for a better experience as a student-athlete, coach and administrator. So many have crossed my path and been so impactful in my life.
“I am grateful for my coaches and the lessons I learned from each of them,” added Watkins. “I’m thankful the Lord blessed me with good role models and mentors throughout all my Campbell days. I want to extend a special thank you to the players who have worn the Orange and Black and made me so proud of the way they represented our University and to have been one of their coaches. They continue to represent Campbell all around the world and it gives me a strong sense of pride to see the women they have become.”
More details will follow for the historic day, celebrating a Campbell icon.
“Coach Watkins deserves to be celebrated, and we’re excited to do that on Wanda Watkins Day,” said Bazemore. “She has always championed her student-athletes and those around her, and now it’s our turn to champion her. We’re thrilled to be able to share this day with her and the Campbell community for the first time on November 18, and annually for years to come.”
She retired from coaching as the 29th-winningest head coach in NCAA Division I women’s basketball at 549-443, one of 14 active coaches in Division I to serve 30-plus years at the same institution, all while graduating more than 95 percent of her student-athletes along the way.
Watkins finished her coaching career with 10 conference championship game appearances (six – Big South, four – ASUN) and won two crowns, as her 2000 squad clinched the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
“I also thank the coaches who stood with me in the trenches and extended a loyalty to myself and to Campbell that strengthened the success of our program,” said Watkins. “I will always be appreciative of their devotion. The fans and supporters over the years have been such a blessing, as there are no folks like our Buies Creek faithful! I will cherish our good times over the years and thank them for always believing in our program. I also thank my past and present administrators who have granted ways for me to continue to live this wonderful dream in athletics. With each new role I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to stay involved in the pursuit of excellence with Campbell Athletics.”
“Lastly, I would like to thank my Mom and Dad who made many sacrifices in order for me to pursue my dreams,” said Watkins. “They stood by me always! Without them, this journey would not have been possible. This is an exciting, and yet bittersweet moment for me, but I will always love the Orange and Black, as Campbell will hold a special place in my heart forever. Once a Camel, always a Camel!”
Watkins began her coaching career as the women’s basketball team’s graduate assistant coach in 1979, was hired as the school’s first full-time assistant coach in 1980 and was promoted to head coach in 1981.
In 2019, Watkins was named as one of 14 trail blazing women who shaped Campbell University in Campbell Magazine, and in 2022, the Big South Conference announced that its annual female athlete of the year award would be named in Watkins’ honor.
Watkins directed the Camels to the first six Big South Championship games (1987-92) and finished 16-12 in the conference tournament with a title in 1989. Her six title game appearances still remain second-most in league history. Watkins was voted Big South Coach of the Year twice (1987, 1991) and won at least 20 games five times during her time in the conference.
In addition to the 2000 tournament title, the 1979 Campbell graduate also led her teams to the 1989 Big South tournament championship. 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.
Her 2000 team that defeated Georgia State in the A-Sun championship game, fell to Duke in the Big Dance, posting a 22-9 record on the year.
In addition to her coaching achievements, Watkins holds a 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 that school’s 1974 North Carolina state championship team.
She served as team captain of the Lady Camels basketball team as a senior and captained the softball team for three years. Despite suffering an injury in her final season, Watkins was named MVP of the 1978-79 team and selected as Campbell’s Outstanding Female Athlete.
She currently serves as Campbell’s Senior Associate Athletics Director after moving into the Senior Woman Administrator position when she retired from coaching.
Also Campbell’s Interim Director of Athletics in 2018-19, Watkins has also sat on various Big South committees, and was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.
(Campbell media services provided the basis for this report)