There was a time not too long ago when all you had to do to successfully guard Wichita State’s Tekele Cotton was take a couple steps back and dare him to shoot. The 6’2″ guard had major problems shooting the basketball. His defense was second to none, and for his size he was even a decent rebounder. If he was not driving the lane, however, opposing defenses did not respect him. Over the course of this season, however, Cotton has taken the steps necessary to become a complete player for Wichita State, who has joined the 1990-1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels as the only teams to ever start the season 34-0.
Cotton admits that when he joined the Shockers his shooting was horrible. He says that he lacked the fundamentals and confidence to be a successful shooter. To fix the problem he spent countless extra hours in the gym after practice just shooting and working on his form. The work is starting to pay off.
At the conclusion of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, which the Shockers won by handing No. 2 seed Indiana State an 83-69 defeat, Cotton was named the tournament MVP. In the tourney finale he tallied 20 points, which included a 4-6 performance from behind the arc. The junior guard was fantastic from three-point range the entire tournament, shooting 67 percent.
“He’s still not a great shooter, but he makes big shots.” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said.
Even this season, Cotton has been primarily known for his stellar defense and his ability to execute some amazing dunks. He was named the Missouri Valley Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year this season and averages 1.4 steals per game. The junior guard routinely takes on the opponents’ top scorer and he takes pride in his abilities on the defensive side of the ball. Still, Cotton knows that he needs to do more.
““I don’t want to be known only for my defense. I want to be known as a basketball player,” he said. “Offense is part of that.”
Along with working on his jump shot, the 6′ 2″ guard has gotten better at creating his own shot. He uses his quickness to manipulate defenders and charge the basket. He also has learned to finish his shot even while taking a pounding. Not only that, but the MVC Tourney MVP has even increased his free throw accuracy from 54 to 69 percent, so when he does get pounded, he makes the defense pay. All things considered, Cotton is definitely becoming a complete player for Wichita State.
Shockers’ star sophomore point guard Fred Van Vleet has noticed Cotton’s vastly improved offensive performance as well.
“… Teams can’t back off of him now. But when they try he’ll hit the jumper, ” VanVleet said. “… What he’s doing offensively has freed up the rest of us.”
No matter how proficient of a scorer Cotton becomes, he will always be a defensive player first. More often than not his defense actually propels his offense. In a late February contest against Drake, for example, the junior set a Wichita State record with seven steals. He used those steals to set up scoring opportunities and reached a career high in points with 21.
“I’ll always take the most pride in my defense, but I can be more than defense,” Cotton said.
The entire nation will get a chance to see just how much more the Shocker guard can provide on top of his defense. With improvements across the board this season in everything from field goal percentage to free throw accuracy to assists to rebounds, Cotton is well on his way to becoming the complete player that Wichita State needs him to be if they are going to navigate through the NCAA tournament and put the finishing touches on a perfect season.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika
The Kansas City Star