In Josh Cook’s first year as the Mercer County Boys Head Basketball Coach, he guided the team to a school record 23 wins. In his second season in charge, he hopes to build off that success and take the Titans to their first KHSAA State Tournament in school history.
“We want to set the goal as high as we can. We want our guys to be playing in the state tournament and we want to be a team that we feel can play for a state championship,” said Cook.
To achieve that goal, Cook knows it will take a complete team effort.
“It is really a credit to the character of the kids we have. They are extremely unselfish, and with the style of basketball that we are going to play, sharing the basketball is extremely important,” said Cook.
A lot of the team’s success will fall on the shoulders of senior point guard Will Hager, who recently signed to play collegiate basketball at the Colorado School of Mines.
“Will brings leadership and he is our facilitator. Most importantly, he does whatever it takes to help our team win,” said Cook.
Hager, who averaged a team-high 17.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7 assists last year, said he has been waiting to get this season started since last year’s team fell to Lincoln County in the 12th Region semifinals.
“The day after last season ended I was ready to go again,” said Hager. “A lot of us went and watched last year’s state tournament and it was motivation to get there.”
Senior Malik Dow, who averaged 11.8 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds per game last season, will also have to have another big season in order for the Titans to achieve their ultimate goal of playing in Rupp Arena.
“He needs to be a beast. We need him to play with a high motor and bring high energy,” said Cook.
Seniors Alijah Mink (6.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), Drew Davis (4.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg), Jackson Baughman (5.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg) and Connor Souder (1.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg) also add valuable experience, which Cook says is something that can’t be taught.
“These seniors want to win. They’ve had ups and downs throughout their high school careers, so they are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to win. They bring a championship mentality to our team, so for us to get where we want to be you’ve got to have those types of players that will sacrifice for the better of the team,” said Cook.
A name many people became very familiar with last year, Trevon Faulkner, is back this year hoping to have an even better year than he did last season as a freshman when he averaged 16.8 ppg and 5 rpg.
“I’ve been getting in the gym more and trying to get more reps. I am just trying to work on the things that I know still need a lot of work,” said Faulkner. “I’ve put a lot of focus on my pull up jumper and just making sure I am talking more on defense and getting better defensively.”
Mercer County is also adding a new piece to their already stellar rotation, as junior Dylan James joins the team. James, who transferred to Mercer County from Sheldon Clark High School this summer after his dad took the principal job at Harlow Early Learning Center, averaged 22.6 ppg and 10.1 rpg last season and has scored over 1,600 career points and recorded over 1,000 rebounds in his career.
“Dylan is such a high IQ basketball player. He has a great feel for the game,” said Cook. “He is what I would call a ‘pure shooter’. He really knows how to play basketball at the highest level.”