Nov. 29—Twenty-seven-year-old Derek Cooksey took over a Fairview program with sky-high expectations as a first-time head coach.
Forty-year-old Derek Cooksey brings the perspective from a decade leading the Eagles and two more years as a Russell assistant before getting the reins to the Red Devils this season.
With that has come understanding of program-building and taking the long view, Cooksey said.
"As I've gotten older, I've probably understood more that it's a process," Cooksey said. "We all want to be competitive night in, night out, but a lot of times it takes time and a little bit of patience to get there."
Russell isn't far off, Cooksey thinks. He praised the Red Devils' depth and improvement.
Of course, having Brady Bell helps too. The senior standout pitched in 18.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last year and has continued to develop physically, Cooksey said.
"He can create mismatches night in, night out," Cooksey said of Bell. "Primarily played a lot of '2,' '3,' the wing position, but we're gonna move him around to multiple spots."
Cooksey still sees upside for Bell and said Russell has "really challenged him on the defensive end" as a means of realizing it.
Griffin Downs is another returning senior starter who logged 9.9 points and 6.1 rebounds a night last year.
Downs and Bell provide "a nice nucleus of some leadership," Cooksey said. Russell sees enough depth behind that duo that it will have increased flexibility offensively and defensively, Cooksey said. He also likes Russell's size and thinks it's atypical for the 16th Region in recent years.
"One thing in the systems I've always run is, we're gonna try to be really good defensively," Cooksey said. "Offensively though, if you can get out and get easy baskets and run the floor, we want to do that.
"A lot of times, that's dictated by skill set, but I truly do believe that we have a nice nucleus that we're gonna be able to play a lot more kids than we probably have the last couple years."
Carson Blum, who played in all 20 games last year, will step in at point guard.
"He's an extension of the coach, and that's what we want in our program," Cooksey said. "He's tough, hard-nosed. He's worked tremendously hard in the weight room, you can tell."
Cooksey added that progression in strength is true of the Red Devils up and down the roster.
Damon Charles and Caden McClelland will play inside. Cooksey said both have grown and that McClelland in particular "had a huge growth spurt last year."
Carson Patrick (5.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg last year) and Bradley Rose, a lethal aerial combination on the gridiron, look to bring that to the hardwood. Cooksey praised Patrick's rim-attacking and shooting ability and added, "Defensively, I believe the sky is the limit for him."
Sophomores Noah Quinn — a "very heady kid," his coach said, and a triplet along with Russell girls players Bella and Ava Quinn — and Tatum Fleming are in the mix too, and Landon McDowell returned to Russell, where he played in middle school, after spending his junior year gaining "very valuable" experience at Fairview, Cooksey said.