Published in the November 29, 2018 issue of The Johnsonian.
Xavier Cooks has been interviewed a lot, considering he’s a two-time All-Big South Conference Selection, and averaged 19.7 points and 13 rebounds in the 2017 Big South Tournament.
Coming from a minimal sports background, the task to interview the athlete seemed a little daunting to me. As intense as Cooks’ presence on the court is, off the court he’s approachable and collected, and greets the many people he knows around campus.
Cooks is originally from Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. He’s played basketball since he was young, and his dad coaches the game.
Cooks’ talent in basketball has taken him all over the world, specifically while playing for the Australian National Team.
“I went to China twice, South Korea, and I went to Chinese Taipei,” Cooks said.
The athlete noted the differences in the game of basketball abroad. Internationally, Cooks says basketball has more movement on the court, whereas in North America, “they all kind of play that one-on-one style of basketball.”
He also noted the differences in player physique, “The tallest guy on (the Australian National Team) was probably 6’11, while in America they’ll have like three seven-footers,” Cooks said.
Pat Kelsey is the head men’s basketball coach. He’s coached at Winthrop since 2012, and coached Cooks since 2014.
“He’s played all around the world, and that is invaluable. That experience playing with the highest level amateur players, it helps his confidence, helps his skill level. There’s no situation he’s never seen before.” Kelsey said of Cooks.
Cooks said studying and playing abroad has definitely opened his eyes
to a lot of things,“Before I came (to America) I wouldn’t have known anything about your politics.”
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), only about 27 percent of Division I student-athletes have either studied abroad, or plan to do so.
Chelsi Colleton is the study abroad coordinator at Winthrop’s International Center.
“We’re working to identify programs abroad that meet the needs
and goals of athletes,” Colleton said. “I’ve known athletes that study abroad and then go on to play professionally in the country that they studied in.”
Cooks says the hardest part about coming to the U.S. for him was the adjustment period, “Freshman year was so tiring: you’re enrolled in 18 hours, and you’re doing basketball, and you’re coming in from living with your parents.”
The basketball player also got to show his fellow Winthrop teammates around his home country when the 2017-2018 team visited Australia over the summer.
“I absolutely loved showing them around, going around Sydney, and playing against my dad’s team, ” Cooks said.
Coach Kelsey agrees with Cooks. Going to Australia as a team, according to Kelsey, was “two fold: it was great for the basketball team for tactical, on the floor reasons, and even moreso beneficial off-floor they became a tighter family unit; spending so many hours on buses, in hotels,” the coach said, “chemistry off the floor is just as important as chemistry on the floor.”
Cooks believes it is these shared experiences that make a good team, and ultimately make for effective team communication on the court. He looks forward to building more experiences with the newer members of the team this year.
As for Cooks’ future, he plans to play professionally. Similar to a non-student-athlete, he’s working on his professional profile as well as his game, and is excited to see where life takes him post-graduation.
When asked what the first rule of basketball is, he says “to have fun. You’ve gotta really enjoy the game. If you’re gonna be good at it, you’re gonna have to put a lot of time in, you gotta find it fun. You’ve gotta love the sport.”
The men’s basketball team plays their first game of the season on Nov. 10 at 7:00 p.m. at the Winthrop Coliseum.