Tekele Cotton’s offense forcing opponents’ respect

03/06/2014 11:49 AM

08/06/2014 10:12 AM

You’ve probably seen the video clip. How could you not, even you’re only a passing Shocker fan?

At Illinois State in a January victory – of course, what else could it be in this magical season? – Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton took a pass, drove the baseline and threw down a one-handed dunk over the Redbirds’ wide load, 6-foot-9, 260-pound John Jones.

Cotton hardly noticed the top of his head hit the backboard.

The dunk was among ESPN’s top plays of the day. You can still find it on YouTube.

But then the 6-foot-3 Cotton has always been able to dunk. He’s athletic with some serious ups.

Cotton also has always been known for his defense, which is one reason WSU is unbeaten going into Friday’s quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at the Scottrade Center.

Earlier this week, he was named the league’s defensive player of the year. He always draws the opponent’s top scorer – up to 6-6 or so – and can grab a steal before you can say St. Louis.

And Cotton is quite proud of that.

But there’s more to his game this year. He’s become a real-deal offensive threat.

“I don’t want to be known only for my defense,” the junior from Marietta, Ga., said. “I want to be known as a basketball player. Offense is part of that.”

He is profoundly efficient offensively.

Cotton took 209 shots last year while averaging 6.5 points. This year he’s needed only 41 more shots to average 10.4 points.

He has become better at creating his own shot, often using his quickness to blow past a defender.

“First of all,” said WSU coach Gregg Marshall, “he’s out there playing because he’s such a great defender, a fine athlete. You can’t score if you’re sitting on the bench.

“He’s still not a great shooter, but he makes big shots.”

Offense hasn’t come easily for Cotton.

“When I got here,” he said, “I was shooting horrible. Confidence, fundamentals. All the same. I was horrible. I had to find a way to fix it.”

Which meant long hours in the gym. Shooting, shooting and more shooting.

There was a time when teams would back far off Cotton when he was beyond the three-point line. Just daring him to shoot.

Marshall had a conversation with Cotton.

“Look, you’re a smart guy,” Marshall said. “How does that make you feel? To me, it would almost be embarrassing.”

Cotton is far from deadly on three-pointers, hitting 33 percent. But if you take out a 12-game slide when he made 6 of 31, he’s making 40 percent this season and has hit 17 of his last 38 three-pointers.

But he’s also become a more complete offensive player. Besides doing better at creating his shot, he’s finishing what he starts.

He understands what to do with his nearly 210 pounds when he goes inside.

Credit that to having buddies pound him with football blocking pads when he went up for layups during workouts last summer.

“He has a great knack for the floater,” WSU point guard Fred VanVleet said. “He’s been more aggressive. Teams can’t back off on him now. But when they try, he’ll hit the jumper or get a full head of steam and beat ’em on the drive.

“He’s an all-improved package this year. What he’s doing offensively has freed up the rest of us.”

Cotton’s defense still feeds his offense.

Take the recent victory over Drake. He had a career-high 21 points largely because that scoring was set up by his school record-tying seven steals.

“I’ll always take the most pride in my defense,” he said, “but I can be more than defense.”

 

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