More to prove
Jan. 21, 2004
If not, Cotton might never have played for Smith, Southeast Missouri State University's second-year women's basketball coach.
"I'm glad they stuck with it," Smith said with a smile.
Cotton, the Otahkians' rookie junior shooting guard, has been on quite a recent tear as she has upped her season scoring average to 11 points per game, which is second-best on the team behind Kenja White's 11.6.
In Southeast's four Ohio Valley Conference games, Cotton is averaging 17.8 points while shooting a sizzling 53.1 percent from 3-point range (17 of 32). In OVC contests only, she leads the league in 3-pointers made, is second in 3-point percentage and ranks fourth in scoring. For the season, Cotton is shooting 40.5 percent on 3-pointers.
"I guess shooting has always kind of been my thing," Cotton said, grinning. "But it took me a while to get it going this year."
Just like it took Cotton and her mother a while to finally convince Smith that she was good enough to play for his powerhouse Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College program.
The 5-foot-7 Cotton was a high school star in tiny Crowder, Okla., when she saw Smith -- then the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M coach -- at a tournament scouting potential recruits.
Wanting to play for a winner
"NEO had a great program. They were ranked No. 1 in the nation, and I'd heard all about them," Cotton said. "I went up to him at the tournament and told him I was interested in playing for him."
Smith admits he wasn't all that certain she could cut it with his star-studded junior college squad.
"I really wasn't sure. She was a typical high school player, a step slow, and she played in a very small class," Smith said. "I didn't know if she could make the adjustment.
"I bet I saw her 10 times in high school trying to decide. But she and her mother kept calling me, and eventually I decided she should have a chance to play for us. I guess their persistence paid off."
Added a laughing Smith, "I remember when she walked up to me at that tournament and said she wanted to play for us. I tried to discourage her, saying how hard it would be, but she said that's what she wanted.
"She's one of those kids, whatever her weaknesses were, she was going to work and work at it to get better. Her foot speed has gotten better, and she's gotten to where she really gets her shot off in a hurry."
Smith said at first Cotton found playing time hard to come by, but she eventually became a key contributor as a freshman on Northeastern Oklahoma's 35-1 team that finished second in the nation among junior colleges.
Last season, as Smith took over Southeast's program, Cotton averaged 16.7 points and shot 46 percent from 3-point range during her sophomore campaign at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
With Smith already having four of his former junior college stars follow him to Southeast last year, Cotton figured it was just natural that she would make the move this season. And this time, Smith really didn't need any convincing.
"It was always a goal of mine to play Division I, and I knew this would be a good opportunity for me," Cotton said. "I'm happy here and I really like Cape Girardeau. I feel pretty lucky to be able to walk into a program like this."
Besides her outside shot, Cotton is also known for her intense play and all-out hustle.
"As a coach, when you're recruiting, she has the things you can't measure," Smith said. "She has those intangibles that you need to have a good basketball team."
Along with plenty of persistence.