by Todd Thomas, Staff Writer
The Truman men’s basketball team had a tough 2013 to 2014 season, going four and 26 in the win/loss tally.
But the team of freshmen has been resilient and believes they still have a chance to redeem themselves on the court (in the upcoming post-season tournament) while also celebrating the academic stability that head coach John Cooksey has been striving for.
Coach Cooksey said that early in the season the loss of their tallest players to academic issues led to some on-court adjustments. The lack of size meant they had to rely more on speed and defense to be competitive.
“The loss of our big man made it tougher,” said Cooksey, “but we play to our strengths, which are more speed and defense, and we have pretty good perimeter play.”
Losing so many games was tough on the players, but they persisted with the help of an enthusiastic coach Cooksey, who said it’s his job to keep the team’s spirits up when things turn sour.
“Morale is always a challenge when the record compiles the way it has,” Cooksey said. “But my job is to get them to focus on the game ahead . . . Forget about the record and focus on the task at hand.”
“Cooksey motivates us,” said Falcon point guard Derrick Poe. “He keeps our heads up, and we are getting better as a team.”
“There’s been a lot of progress,” he adds. “Now we have a weight room, and new jerseys. It’s a slow process, but we are steadily improving.”
Cooksey also said that keeping players academically eligible helped ease some of the pain that comes from losing so many games. The Falcons maintained a full squad, allowing the players, all of whom are new to the team, to gel together and develop that all-important team chemistry.
“We had a few guys that quit and a few guys that didn’t take care of their business academically, but this was by far the best group as far as retention in my three seasons,” Cooksey said.
The key to staying a Falcon is, of course, hitting the books and staying academically eligible to play sports. Cooksey said that they implemented a mandatory Wednesday study hall instead of basketball practice this season and it paid off.
“Study hall is good on Wednesdays, (and) then nobody can have excuses that they didn’t have time to do their work — it helps keep us stay eligible to play basketball,” said forward Juan DeJesus.
“It’s more than basketball with coach Cooksey. You might not get that from a lot of other coaches — some coaches just care about basketball,” DeJesus added.
Truman Athletic Director Alison Guengerich also puts the emphasis on getting student athletes to take education seriously: “Our big measure of success is for the students to be achieving what they need academically. I hate to see a student-athlete lost due to academic issues. But it is an unfortunate fact that sometimes does happen.”
Despite the small crowds at Dave Rowlands Sports Center, Guengerich said that she is happy with the core of fans who come out to support the team, despite the losing record.
“We are thrilled that we have a group of faithful students who come out to every home game, and I often see them travel to away games as well,” she said.
But more fan support would be appreciated and might bring more energy to the gym, said DeJesus: “I would love to see more fans because that helps bring the tempo up. Come support us — if you don’t have to go to work come to the game.”
The regular season ended on Feb. 24 with a loss to Daley College, and now the Falcons will prepare for a post-season tournament game, and a final chance to show what type of team they can be on the court.
“I want to see us win and shock some people in the tournament,” said DeJesus.
A tournament win would be a plus, but the Truman sports program is in its fledgling stages, and for now it’s all about growth, said Guengerich.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” she said. “We’re trying to create something special here at Truman, and we know that won’t happen overnight.”