Second-year coach led Titans to Sweet 16, 33-2 record
If life can get much better for 32-year-old Josh Cook, he’s not sure how.
Last month the Mercer County High School boys basketball coach led the Titans to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 16 years. In May, Cook and his wife, Shana, are expecting their first child – a daughter named Avery Kate.
And on Wednesday Cook got the news that he’s been named The Courier-Journal’s Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
“That’s pretty mind-blowing, but it makes me feel good,” Cook said. “I look up to so many of these guys. Kentucky is really blessed to have some great high school coaches.”
Cook received 16 votes from the 76 coaches who returned ballots in The C-J’s statewide ballot. Paul Dunbar’s Scott Chalk was the runner-up with 11 votes. Christian County’s Frankie Smith, Bowling Green’s D.G. Sherrill and Male’s Willie Feldhaus tied for third with five votes apiece.
Twenty-eight coaches received at least one vote.
Cook, the first winner from Mercer County since The C-J instituted the award in 1946, enjoyed a breakthrough season with the Titans.
They won their first 24 games and were ranked No. 1 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings before a 77-59 loss at Lafayette on Feb. 6.
The Titans rolled through the 46th District and 12th Region tournaments before facing a tough first-round matchup in the Sweet 16, falling to eventual state champion Paul Dunbar 58-55 and finishing with a 33-2 record.
“I’m most happy about the fact that we tried to enjoy every step along the way and the kids stayed humble,” Cook said. “I don’t think they ever got too high or too low. … With what they did for the program and the community and school, I think we’ll all look back and reflect and realize it was one of the best years of our lives.”
All season Cook lauded the balance on his team, as four players averaged double figures in scoring. Sophomore Trevon Faulkner was the leader at 18.6 points per game. Junior Dylan James (15.6 ppg) and seniors Will Hager (14.6) and Malik Dow (11.1) were the other top scorers.
Cook said it didn’t matter to any of his players who scored the most.
“You’re always going to have your leading scorer and best defender and best rebounder on any team,” Cook said. “But this group understood it wasn’t about the exposure or the stats. Each job is important. That’s what makes the game special in my opinion.”
Cook is a 2002 graduate of June Buchanan, where he finished his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,803 points. That record has since been broken by Clark Stepp, who graduated in 2008 with 3,070 points.
Cook joked he wasn’t unhappy to see his record surpassed.
“I probably shot more than I should have,” he said. “I try to tell our kids not to do that.”
Cook played one season of basketball at Alice Lloyd College before going into coaching at June Buchanan. He was an assistant for four seasons and the head coach for one season, posting an 18-10 record during the 2008-09 campaign.
He then took jobs as an assistant at Knott County Central and Montgomery County before being named head coach at Lawrence County in 2012. He posted a 41-22 record in two seasons there before heading to Mercer County in 2014. The Titans were 23-9 in his first season.
Cook said he knew early that he wanted to be a coach and plans to stick around the profession as long as possible.
“It’s the relationship with the kids,” he said. “You build relationships, and the more long-term they are the more rewarding they become. I’ve been at five different programs now, and the relationships I have with all of those kids mean a lot to me.”
Now Cook is looking forward to a relationship with his first child. He said he’s spent most of this week, which is Spring Break at Mercer County, getting his house ready for Avery Kate.
He said his wife was very supportive during the Titans’ postseason run, “walking around Rupp Arena while she was pregnant, which I’m sure was not an easy experience. …
“It’s been a pretty awesome year for us, and we’re looking forward to the next challenge. I think Avery Kate is going to be the new leader of the family for the next few months.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
PAST COURIER-JOURNAL BOYS BASKETBALL COACHES OF THE YEAR
1946 — Bobby Laughlin, Breckinridge Training; 1947 — Earle Jones, Maysville; 1948 — McCoy Tarry, Brewers; 1949 — Letcher Norton, Clark County; 1950 — Ralph Carlisle, Lafayette.
1951 — Dale Barnstable, Manual; 1952 — Norton, Clark County; 1953 — George Conley, Ashland; 1954 — Delmas Gish, Central City; 1955 — John Burr, Adair County; 1956 — Bill Carter, Heath; 1957 — John Bill Trivette, Pikeville; 1958 — Norton, Clark County; 1959 — Charlie Lampley, North Marshall; 1960 — Jim Morris, Flaget.
1961 — Bob Wright, Ashland; 1962 — Elmer “Baldy” Gilb, Henry Clay; 1963 — Morton Combs, Carr Creek; 1964 — Gene Rhodes, Male; 1965 — Bill Harrell, Shelby County; 1966 — Harrell, Shelby County; 1967 — Bob Fox, Earlington; 1968 — Jim Richards, Glasgow; 1969 — Bob Graves, Louisville Central; 1970 — Gary Schaffer, Pleasure Ridge Park.
1971 — Jack Upchurch, Anderson County; 1972 — Ray Vencil, Elizabethtown; 1973 — Bob Barlow, Bryan Station; 1974 — Graves, Central; 1975 — Wade Houston, Male; 1976 — Richard Schmidt, Ballard; 1977 — Schmidt, Ballard; 1978 — Wayne Chapman, Apollo; 1979 — Charles “Jock” Sutherland, Lafayette; 1980 — Bobby Watson, Owensboro.
1981 — Barlow, Bryan Station; 1982 — Allen Feldhaus Sr., Mason County; 1983 — Craynor Slone, Carlisle County; 1984 — Gerald Sinclair, Logan County; 1985 — Glenn Collie, Seneca; 1986 — Feldhaus Sr., Mason County; 1987 — Bobby Keith, Clay County; 1988 — Keith, Clay County; 1989 — Keith, Clay County; 1990 — Gary French, Elizabethtown.
1991 — Nolan Barger, Tates Creek; 1992 — Danny Haney, Lexington Catholic; 1993 — Tim Davis, Marion County; 1994 — Billy Hicks, Corbin; 1995 — Gary Moore, Franklin County; 1996 — Curtis Turley, Greenwood; 1997 — Haney, Lexington Catholic; 1998 — Haney, Lexington Catholic; 1999 — Ernie Simpson, Bowling Green; 2000 — Jimmy Just, Iroquois.
2001 — Bryce Hibbard, Male; 2002 — Rodney Woods, Wayne County; 2003 — Kelly Wells, Mason County; 2004 — Wells, Mason County; 2005 — Mike Szabo, Trinity; 2006 — Buddy Biggs, Pendleton County; 2007 — Billy Hicks, Scott County; 2008 — Champ Ligon Jr., Bryan Station; 2009 — Jason Booher, Shelby Valley; 2010 — Szabo, Trinity.
2011 — Wayne Breeden, Tates Creek; 2012 – Allen Feldhaus Jr., Madison Central; 2013 – Feldhaus Jr., Madison Central; 2014 – Scott Ruthsatz, Covington Catholic; 2015 — Rod Drake, Owensboro.