If South Carolina is to play well in conference play this season they are going to need strong leadership to guide them through the ups and downs of January and February. That role will go to the lone senior, Malik Cooke.
Senior forward Malik Cooke
The 6-foot-6 wing player transferred to South Carolina from Nevada three years ago and now is the guy that has held the team together through thick and thin the past eight months all while finding a way to graduate last Monday with a degree in sociology.
The past few months have been a rocky road for the South Carolina basketball program but during tough times is usually when true leaders step to the forefront. It is a presence that the young Gamecocks need and head coach Darrin Horn appreciates.
“He has been extremely consistent for us and been a presence,” he said. “He is a guy that has been through it the most and understands and accepted who he is and how he needs to play to be successful.”
In his post game press conference following a 58-53 loss to Elon on November 15, Cooke was disappointed but showed the type of leadership by addressing how the Gamecocks had to move forward.
“We just have to get back to the drawing board tomorrow,” Cooke said. “I have to let the team know this doesn’t define our season. We still have a lot of season left and we just have to come back and get back to work tomorrow.”
It would have been easy for Cooke to just make those statements after another tough loss and not follow up with actions. Great leaders, however, impress their will upon others and make sure their voice is heard. Freshman Anthony Gill believes that is exactly what Cooke did.
“He definitely took leadership of this team,” Gill said. “He told us we had to turn it up and that is not what South Carolina basketball is about. We don’t want to be that team to give South Carolina basketball that kind of look so we definitely have to turn things around and motivate ourselves to start winning.”
Cooke has not just played the role of team leader but has also stepped forward by helping Gill to understand the game and become the best player he can be.
“He has definitely played a big part in my growth as a player,” he said. “He is the only senior we have on the team and I am one of the freshmen, so he definitely leads us with his mentality and the way he goes hard in practice.”
Many fans and media pointed to sophomore Bruce Ellington as the leader of the Gamecock ball club. Ellington was a fan favorite last season and although he slumped late in the year, many considered him the top player on the Gamecock squad.
Upon returning to the basketball team in early December following his time with the football program, it was thought Ellington would naturally step back into the leadership role. The sophomore point guard does not see it that way though.
“We have Malik Cooke and he is a great leader,” Ellington said. “We all look up to him because he has been through a lot. Malik is the true leader on our team.”
After losses the losses to Elon and Tennessee State it would have been easy for Cooke to pack it in and worry about himself. Instead he continued to push the team and push himself and that paid off with two critical free throws late against Clemson to seal the game. Although Ellington may become the more dynamic player down the stretch for Horn’s ball club, he knows he can always count on his senior in the final seconds to try and make a play.
“Cooke wants the ball at the end of games,” Horn said. “That is what you want from a fifth year senior.”
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