From the very first week that we stepped into this class, I wanted to focus on the sports beats so that I could share the story of men’s basketball head coach Andre Cook. Once we had free reign, I started working on a profile around Thanksgiving break. I am really proud of this story (that will be in this week’s issue of Hilltop Views) and want to elaborate on it for my final JIII story. What I plan to do to make this profile more of a beat story is include an interactive map showing social media posts of where the team has played and write a little sports analysis blurb on each game so far. The team just got back from New York and Puerto Rico. Throughout the profile, I also want to include audio clips of Coach Cook’s high school coach.
Coaching 101: Life lessons heading into basketball season
Head Coach Andre Cook is starting his eighth season at St. Edward’s University with the team’s goal to reach a third-straight Heartland Conference Tournament appearance and national ranking. Here are the character traits that Cook said have made him into the coach and person he is today.
Cook grew up playing baseball in Albany, New York. His basketball career began in fourth grade with his grandfather’s signature on a permission slip and a five-dollar fee, which allowed him to try out for a youth basketball league alongside his neighborhood friends.
It wasn’t until Cook met New York State Hall of Fame basketball coach George Mardigan that his passion for basketball surpassed his love for baseball. For 30 seasons, Mardigan was a tough-as-nails coach, who taught his varsity players at Watervliet High School that there are no shortcuts on the path to success.
“A lot of times younger people are asked what they learned from a mentor, but a lot of times the opposite is true,” Mardigan said. “I learned a lot from Andre. He was a fierce competitor, as was I, but he was able to keep his cool a little better than I could.”
This 5-foot-10-inch shooting guard was a four-year varsity member and team captain of the Watervliet basketball team before graduating in 1990. Cook was inducted into Watervliet High School’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Some of Mardigan’s most prominent lessons for Cook were that being brutally honest and wanting to win are not bad things, and being extremely prepared, passionate and taking the time to talk to individual players are the keys to success.
“If I had to select one player that I could coach another season with of the players I was involved with, he would be my first choice based on his overall character and his loyalty,” Mardigan said. “He’s a really good person — he really really is.”
The cold winters in New York contributed to Cook’s work ethic, as he would shovel ice off the courts, cut the fingers off his gloves to feel the ball and made friends with the school janitors, who would allow him to practice in the gym after hours with his friends.
Cook was raised by his hard-working grandparents who cared for him in addition to the 10 children of their own. Considered the baby brother of the family, he would share a bed, take the couch or even the floor, not having a bed all to himself until college.
He received a scholarship to play Div. III basketball at Skidmore College, where he set a school record for three-point shots. Cook studied history like Martigan did, and in 1994, Cook graduated with a bachelor’s degree in American studies. In 1996, Cook completed his master’s degree in teaching social studies from Union College.
“What I am most proud of, of my career, is that for eight years, as a high school varsity player and as a college player — I played in every practice and played in every game,” Cook said. “I had that work ethic of my grandfather and Coach Mardigan that you come to work.”
In 2009, Cook, his wife Stacey and their two children, Emily and Colin, moved from the capital of New York to the capital of Texas. Emily was six-years-old and Colin was only six-months-old.
Prior to taking the head coaching position at St. Edward’s, Cook compiled a 119-40 record over five seasons at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York. His transition to Div. II was not as smooth as he would have hoped. In his first season, the Hilltoppers went 12-16 then 9-16 the next season.
“It was hard, especially early on,” Cook said, referring to the move and transition. “We weren’t winning. Trying to get it figured out, without having any family here. As much support as I had at St. Ed’s, it felt a little bit like being on an island.”
But now this island has grown to be a second home, not only for Cook but for his kids. Emily is now a teenager, and has become good friends with Women’s Basketball Head Coach J.J. Riehl and has ambitions to play college basketball. Colin has grown up shooting hoops in the St. Edward’s gym, idolizing the gentle giants who have graced the court, especially Graduate Assistant Coach Trey Lindsey.
Cook said it took longer than he would have liked to figure out what works for the program, but he’s seemed to have found the right recruitment formula, using the team’s overall GPA and wins record to reflect his progress.
“Now the aspiration is to take the program to the next step,” Cook said. “We’ve got to make the NCAA Tournament, we’ve got to win games, keep recruiting kids like the ones we just signed and the guys we have on the team.”
One of the main struggles the team has had in past seasons is securing tight games that are within five points or that go into overtime. Being 18-12 compared to 24-6 in close games is the difference between receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament or not.
Last year, Lindsey was a senior forward and team captain who helped Cook reach his 100th career win at St. Edward’s after seven seasons. Now Lindsey sits next to Cook on the team bench in a suit instead of a basketball jersey.
“The thing I like about him is that he’s such a player’s coach,” Lindsey said. “He makes sure that he takes time to talk to all the guys, build a relationship, so it’s more than just basketball. I think he’s a brilliant basketball coach.
“The x’s and o’s are one thing – but what I’ve taken from him is the other side … Hopefully when I become a head coach one day, I can put it to use for me.”
Cook says that this year, he will rely on his three seniors to lead the team and all the younger players to have confidence and put in their best efforts as well.
“We’re knocking on the door [of the NCAA Tournament], but we’ve got to break through. That’s what drives me to wake up every morning professionally,” Cook said. “For [seniors] John Gramlich, Ramir Burton and Ethan Gilbert, who have meant so much to turning this program around, that would mean so much to me.”