Coach takes charge in second year

With stats prepared, plays gone over, and the motivational quote given, all that’s left to do is take a deep breath and hope the team will not let him down tonight. Before leaving the locker room, he comes to a screeching halt as he remembers the most important thing of all—not his playbook, not his clipboard, but his Diet Coke—the one thing he absolutely cannot head onto the court without. Bashfully, Coach Andre Cook admits, “I’m addicted to Diet Coke!”

Dressed to impress in a suit, tie and matching shoes, Coach Cook suavely walks onto the court with a confident demeanor. He looks the opposing coaching staff directly in the eye as he sternly shakes each person’s hand and wishes them luck in the game. Despite his tactful appearance and behavior on the court, Cook is more than just the head coach of the men’s basketball team at St. Edward’s University. The devoted husband of Stacey Cook and father of two, Emily, 7, and Colin, 1½, Coach Cook is someone whom many would consider the ideal family man.

Born and raised in Watervliet, N.Y., a town about three miles north of Albany, Cook’s childhood was nowhere close to an ordinary fairytale. After raising ten children on their own, Cook’s grandparents, William and Margaret Cook, adopted him as their eleventh child. Although he was raised alongside his aunts and uncles, to him they felt more like his brothers and sisters.

Due to the older age of his grandfather, Cook did not have the traditional father figure to get out on the backyard court to play with. Instead, he confided in a coach at his elementary school named George Mardigan, whom he met at the young age of seven.

During a three-on-three pick-up game after school, Cook remembers being guarded by Coach Mardigan when he got knocked to the ground. He took a terrible fall, landing flat on his teeth. Rising with blood profusely gushing from his face, Cook continued to play without complaint. Mardigan saw Cook’s love and passion for the game, and at that moment he knew Cook was destined for greatness.

Coach Cook developed a unique relationship with Mardigan. When asked about Coach Mardigan, a huge smile spread across Cook’s face as he said, “He is a special person.”

Cook learned many great things from Mardigan, but his fondest lesson was that of toughness. He learned how to be tough on the court and develop a “you’re not beating us attitude.” Cook commonly tells his players, “Some people call it pressure, but I call it reality.”

Whether it is ordering the team to run full-court suicides during practice, or sending the team into a 1-2-2 press in the second quarter of a game, on the court Cook is a very tough coach, wanting nothing but the best for his players. But Cook says he is a different man on and off the court.

“There is a Coach Cook in the office, laughing, in Ragsdale, and then there’s a Coach Cook that walks downstairs and it’s time to get down to business,” Cook said.

He may yell at his players during an intense practice on the court and then offer them a ride home afterwards. This goes to show how much he cares about his players, even after recruiting them, his players say.

“Coach Cook is a very personable guy,” former St. Edward’s basketball player Bobby Watkins said. “He has an open door policy at all times and gives all players that chance to connect with him.”

In an attempt to meet the high expectations everyone held for him, Cook wasted no time in the recruitment process, a significant part of being head coach of the men’s basketball team at St. Edward’s. While other universities have a massive staff with assistants taking care of all the recruiting, Cook takes on this responsibility himself. He has traveled to locations across the nation searching for top-notch players.

His hard work was evident when he brought in five new players from New York alone. New recruit, Khaliq Gross, thought he’d give Coach Cook a chance, saying Cook “knows my style of play and is really close with my high school coach.”

The task of recruiting is very demanding, which takes a toll on any coach’s life. Cook has found balance, which is how he is able to manage his family life at home as well as his work life at St. Edward’s.

Although he has a deep love for basketball, it has not always been Cook’s only focus in life. He holds a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Skidmore College and a masters in teaching. Cook stresses the importance of education to nearly everyone he meets.

Cook also tries to keep a realistic perspective on life. While several players continue to play basketball overseas after graduating, very few players enter the National Basketball Association after leaving an NCAA Division II university. His players know that if basketball is not an option after they graduate, they must have a solid education to fall back on.

“If that were to happen there would be a plan…that’s why I want my guys to know you have to get your degree,” Cook said.

That’s all that Cook wants–for his players to succeed on and off the court. And maybe another Diet Coke.