SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Leza Jones didn't need to bribe, coerce or sweet talk her son into playing defense. She handed that desire down, from mother to son on the basketball court.
"Defense was always a big thing for me, because that's what I learned," she said. "He was like a duck to water, buying into that. That's just him."
Jones' desire to coach defense is paying off for her son, Wichita State freshman Tekele Cotton. His defense puts him at the front of WSU's four-man freshman class. Cotton, a 6-foot-2 guard from Smryna, Ga., played 20 minutes in Sunday's win over Charleston Southern. He and the Shockers begin the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday against Colorado.
"The best thing he does is guard," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
Cotton does two things that cause coaches to trust a rookie — he defends and handles the ball with care. Marshall wants him on the court when the Shockers are pressing because of his quick hands. Sunday, he showed why when he snuck up on a ball-handler, stripped the ball away and threw down a one-handed dunk.
"After a long time being committed to defense, you see certain stuff that the average person doesn't see," Cotton said. "I'm able to read and I try to play as smart as a I can."
Defense keeps most freshmen on the bench. Cotton grabbed three steals in the exhibition win over Emporia State. In Sunday's opener, he had two steals, blocked a shot and took a charge.
"Tekele Cotton has great anticipation," Marshall said. "He really has a knack, a feel, for where the ball is going to be."
Cotton said his high school coach and his mother taught him the importance of defense. Jones coached him from ages 6 to 11. She played high school basketball in Rock Island (Ill.) before a knee injury ended her career. She taught her son that a player can impress a coach by scoring and defending.
"Basketball's been in our household ever since I was little," Cotton said. "Defense is the tough part of the game, and not a lot of people focus on that part of the game."
Jones, listening to the radio feed on the Internet, liked hearing Marshall talk about her son on the postgame show.
"Anybody can shoot the ball," she said. "Defense — that's what wins games. Taking charges is his big thing. I think he led the county in taking charges (in high school)."
Cotton isn't one-dimensional. He scored 10 points against Charleston Southern, making 4 of 5 shots and two three-pointers. He played a lot of point guard Sunday, even though Marshall doesn't consider him a pure point guard. One turnover in 20 minutes is a solid effort for a freshman.
"When my name is called, I'm going to do what I'm told by coach," he said. "In practice, we have to run for turnovers. Of course, you don't want to throw any turnovers. You've got to value the ball."