Starkville came into the 2018-19 season with a plethora of guards that could get hot at any moment.
The old saying goes that if you live by the 3-point shot, you’ll die by that shot and so coach Greg Carter gave his team more balance when he went with a bigger lineup that included Zeke Cook in the post.
It turned out to be a move that eventually earned the Jackets a fourth state championship and Carter’s third.
With a 6-for-30 showing from 3-point range in the semifinals and finals at Jackson’s Mississippi Coliseum, Starkville needed some help elsewhere. That’s where Cook came into play as he carried the load for the Jackets and led them to a state title with two wins.
The performances earned him Most Valuable Player in the championship game and it also got him a spot as the OCH Regional Medical Center Athlete of the Week.
“I challenged him a little bit the other day and he came out in practice and played like that," Carter said. "I had a feeling he was going to play like that. We relied a lot on our post guys. We’ve been well-balanced, but we just didn’t shoot it well (in the semifinals). Jarmarvious Phillips, (Atavius Jones) and Zeke all played well. They found a way to carry us.”
Cook averaged 17 points and 13.5 rebounds in the two games against Brandon and Meridian respectively and it came at just the right time as the Jackets struggled to make shots outside of the paint.
In the first game against the Bulldogs, SHS got off to a slow start before Cook began to get going. His 11 offensive rebounds were a key for the Jackets to get put-back points and he had 18 rebounds in the game with 19 points and two blocked shots as he sparked his team down the stretch.
“I just had to step up because nobody was shooting like we usually shoot it,” Cook said. “Coach told me to do what I do, to finish around the basket and rebound.”
In the state title game, the shots continued to draw nothing but iron. The team was 3-for-15 for the second-straight game, including an 0-for-5 night from Tyler Talley. Cook again was there to clean up some misses as seven of his nine rebounds were offensive. He went 9-of-12 from the free-throw line and had 15 points to earn MVP honors and help the Jackets to the title.
Jones, affectionately known as “Tank,” was just as important in the drive for a title. He had 12 points and 10 rebounds and followed that up with 11 points and nine boards in the championship match as SHS out-rebounded the two teams by an average of 13 rebounds a game.
“Rebounds and finishing were mine and Tank’s role," Cook said. "We had the advantage posting up, rebounding and doing what we do."
As for Carter, he couldn’t have been more thankful for the two players and their roles in this year’s teams and he knows how hard that they worked to get to that spot.
Cook especially has come a long way in his last two seasons and watched last year’s semifinals from the bench. This year, as a junior, he became one of the key reasons why the team was hoisting a gold ball post game and there’s one more chance to do it next year.
“He may not be in the right place all the time, but he’s going to go hard all the time,” Carter said of Cook. “He just kept working and kept working and kept working. It’s culminated in what he’s doing now.”