Cook's versatility helps Yellow Jackets shine

 

Starkville High School junior Edzerick “Zeke” Cook had 18 points, seven rebounds, and an assist Saturday in a 63-62 victory against previously undefeated Olive Branch at Pontotoc’s Tangle on the Trail.

Starkville High School junior Edzerick “Zeke” Cook had 18 points, seven rebounds, and an assist Saturday in a 63-62 victory against previously undefeated Olive Branch at Pontotoc’s Tangle on the Trail. Photo by: Contributed

 

Scott Walters

 

 

STARKVILLE -- When the season began, Starkville High School boys basketball coach Greg Carter wasn't sure where his team would get the majority of its scoring. 

 

Carter has made the Yellow Jackets into one of the state's premier programs based on rebounding and defense. However, the elite Starkville teams always have had one or two players willing to carry the offensive load. 

 

As the calendar hits 2019, it appears Starkville is poised to make a run at Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship. Carter is also beginning to find some answers in the scorebook, too. 

 

"That's the best part about this team," Starkville senior Tyler Talley said. "On any given night, a new player can step up and lead us in scoring. That makes it fun. For this team, it might be your night, or it might be somebody else's. The thing is making sure the right person has the ball when the offense starts flowing well." 

 

This past week, senior Edzerick "Zeke" Cook was the man with the offensive game plan. The 6-foot-4 junior forward had 18 points, seven rebounds, and an assist in a 63-62 victory against previously undefeated Olive Branch at Pontotoc's Tangle on the Trail. 

 

For his performance in that high-profile event, Cook was named the game's most valuable player. 

 

On the night before, Cook had 15 points in a 70-51 victory against Northwest Rankin in a Class 6A, Region 3 game. 

 

The victories moved Starkville to 15-1 and also earned Cook Prep Player of the Week honors from The Dispatch. 

 

"He can play a number of positions on the floor," Carter said. "He has really some versatility for us in the paint, helping Tank (Atavius Jones) on the boards. On offense, he has always had potential. Now he is playing with some more confidence. He is taking good shots. That's a trademark of this year's team. We don't get too rushed on offense. There is usually a nice, steady pace." 

 

Cook said the team's balance has made it easy to fit in. Several key pieces were lost off last year's team, which advanced to the semifinal round of the Class 6A State tournament. 

 

"Even though there was a not a lot of starting experience, a lot of these guys have played together for a while," Cook said. "It's easy to fit in. Each year, (Starkville) is known for making a deep run. We want more of the same this year. Some of these wins we have gotten here recently have really helped the confidence level of the team." 

 

A year ago, Jones proved the biggest surprise during the team's late-season run. A distinguished linebacker on the football team, Jones rounded into basketball shape later than most but flourished down the stretch. 

 

This year, Cook has given the team one more able-bodied rebounder down low. 

 

"Coach always stresses rebounding, boxing your man out, and helping your team get second chances to score," Cook said. "It's always defend and rebound. If you do both of those, the scoring will come." 

 

Starkville's only setback is a loss in the closing seconds to Tupelo. It was avenged with a 24-point victory against the Golden Wave at the Travis Outlaw tournament at Humphrey Coliseum. Starkville breezed to pair of wins in that tournament. 

 

Starkville delivered again Saturday on the state's biggest stage. The Yellow Jackets surrendered a 13-point halftime lead but held on in the final seconds. 

 

"This team needs learning experiences," Carter said. "It's not as automatic as it has been. You just want to play your best basketball in February. We have a chance to do that." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott

 

Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.

 

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