After his last-second 3-pointer clanked the front of the rim, Xavier Cooks walked to the end of Winthrop’s bench and leaned over, disappointment washing over his back.
Senior Day didn’t end how the Eagles’ Australian star had envisioned.
Charleston Southern raced into a huge lead and held off the Eagles for a 78-75 win, the Bucs’ first win in Rock Hill in 17 games. Even worse for Cooks, his mother, Josie, sat in the stands, watching her son lose a basketball game for the second time in three days.
Afterward, she and her oldest son Dominique waited for Xavier, who ghosted out of the Coliseum, visibly annoyed with his performance and the result.
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Josie Cooks traveled over 10,000 miles in 30 hours to see Saturday’s game. She made the trek without her husband, Eric, who is an assistant coach in Australia’s professional basketball league. His team’s season just finished, but this was a trip to Rock Hill Josie wasn’t going to miss.
“I planned this four years ago,” she said, laughing.
Though Xavier’s performance Saturday will rotisserie in his mind for the next few days, the outcome didn’t really matter to mom.
Nine sets of parents traveled to Rock Hill Saturday for Winthrop basketball’s Senior Day game, which ended in a 78-85 loss to Charleston Southern. Jill and John Broman drove over 1,200 miles from Duluth, Minn., a trip they often make during the season, to walk out to center-court pregame with their oldest son, Anders.
Mitch Hill’s parents came from Ohio, Kellen Blake’s from northern Virginia and Matt Erps and Freddy Poole’s moms and dads had the shortest trip, from Spartanburg and Columbia. Those four sets of parents didn’t have to travel as far as the others, but were ever-presents at Eagles games, impressive considering their sons rarely played. Hill, Blake and Poole were rewarded for four years of scout team toil with starting roles Saturday.
No one traveled as far and long to get to the Winthrop Coliseum Saturday as Josie Cooks. Her journey from Australia to South Carolina began with a two-hour train ride from Wollongong to Sydney, a 19-hour flight from Sydney to Dallas, then the last leg to Charlotte.
When Josie comes to America, she’s given a shopping list by Xavier and Dominique, a former college basketball player who moved to Charlotte last year after getting a job at Indian Land marketing firm Red Ventures. For this trip, Dominique only required an Australian candy called Allen’s Lollies, but Xavier had a much longer list of products from his homeland, including Rexona deodorant, Mars bars, Maltesers (chocolate candies), Tim Tam biscuits (cookies) and Milo (chocolate milk mix).
Dominique’s move to Charlotte has helped Xavier immensely. Dominique, whose Australian accent pokes through, is an important influence on his brother, who is six years younger.
“He sort of guides him a lot, just watching him talk to him after the game the other day,” said Josie. “He keeps him level-headed.”
“A calming influence,” Dominique said. “We talk basketball all the time, after every game that’s what we sort of do.”
“From my perspective, I don’t worry about him as much anymore,” Josie said.
That’s invaluable peace of mind for a mother over 9,500 miles away from her youngest child. Seeing two of her kids on the same trip is also invaluable. Josie’s daughter, Georgia, lives in Melbourne, a 10-hour drive south of Wollongong. The Cooks family has spent one of the last nine Christmases together and only one weekend in the last two years.
“Trying to coordinate everything to get everyone home, it’s really hard,” Josie said.
That’s the sacrifice that parents make, relinquishing their kids to the wider world so they can live their best life. And that’s why this trip -- with Xavier’s time at Winthrop coming to a close -- is special.
“I’m really grateful for the whole Winthrop community, the way the coaches have been, the school, the other families. So supportive,” said Josie. “That’s why I wanted to come.”
Where Josie and her family travel to next year to watch Xavier play basketball is unknown. He’s unquestionably a pro prospect, but at what level is the question. Australia’s National Basketball League is competitively decent and Xavier could probably star in his home country, maybe even play for his dad with the Illawarra Hawks.
But he’s got bigger aspirations, whether in Europe or in the NBA. Asked if she’d like Xavier to play his pro basketball in Australia, Josie said what any true-hearted mother would say: “I would like him to reach his potential. Wherever. If he comes back to Australia that means other things haven’t worked out.”
Cooks is Winthrop’s third all-time leading scorer (at the moment), and also its all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots. His name is littered all over the school’s record book, and the Big South Conference’s too. If the Eagles win the Big South Tournament next weekend, it’ll be because Cooks took over.
But Josie Cooks doesn’t really care much about any of that, or that her son missed a last-second 3-pointer Saturday that would have extended Winthrop’s comeback attempt for five more minutes. She was just happy to watch him play basketball. In person.
Winthrop gives away regular season finale
Charleston Southern took advantage of Winthrop’s worst offensive performance of the season to beat the Eagles 78-75, the Bucs’ first win at Winthrop Coliseum in 18 games. Pat Kelsey’s team made just 5-of-25 shots from 3-point range and turned the ball over 19 times, with both shortcomings directly leading to a second consecutive loss.
Charleston Southern (14-15, 9-9 Big South) built a 16-point lead in the first half and held on when the Eagles (18-11, 12-6) finally got their offensive act together. Xavier Cooks got a decent look at a 3-pointer as time expired but his shot was short. Adam Pickett led Winthrop with 20 points, while Cooks had 10 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.
The Eagles lost any small chance of hosting the Big South Conference tournament, which begins Thursday, March 1. Winthrop’s loss clinched the top seed for UNC Asheville, which will host the tournament, while Radford’s win over Longwood dropped the Eagles to the No. 3 seed in the tournament.