North Hopkins senior strengths is relying on the team
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Feb. 17, 2006 - BIRTHRIGHT - Ask any of the four North Hopkins seniors what the strength of their team is, and their answers are basically the same. The strength of the team is the team.

"We're not very big, but we play really well together," said Jake Cockrum. "The strength of the team is how we play together. People look at us and think we'll be easy to beat, but we play well together."

The result is in the record. The Panthers will take a 22-8 mark into Monday's bi-district contest with Avery (24-6). The game will tipoff at 7 p.m. in Mount Pleasant.

Cockrum has teamed with classmates Cory Johnson, J.P. Whittle and Spencer McQueen to form what head coach Steve Drummond calls the backbone of the team.

"These seniors have been great to work with all year. They come to practice every day, work hard and do what they're told," Drummond said. "They really keep the team together."

The squad started meshing in the spring and summer when they gathered at the gym to play two or three nights a week. A couple of the seniors spent most of last season on JV, and there was a transfer to work into the mix, so those offseason hours spent in the gym were invaluable.

"We've come together this year. That's what has made us good, I think," said McQueen. "What's made us strong is our teamwork. We've been working ever since April, and it's really paid off."

Each of the seniors contributes differently. Johnson has been the most consistent player all season, Drummond said, while Whittle is the most athletic and versatile. Cockrum has ran the point, and McQueen has been a steady defensive contributor and 3-point shooter.

"Everybody can score. We're not just looking for one specific person," said Johnson, who is averaging about 14 points per game. "We're getting everybody involved so that if one person is having a bad night, he can depend on everybody else to step up and make things happen."

For example, in Thursday's 67-63 victory over Roxton, Whittle and McQueen each knocked down three 3-pointers, Clements had two and Cockrum hit one from long range. Whittle scored 19 points, Steven Crocker 14 and McQueen 12.

Whittle, who played most of last season on JV, has become one of the team's leading scorers.

"J.P. is probably the most talented player on our team physically," Drummond said. "He can score from the 3-point line, he can post people up, he can go to the basket. He's had a real big year for us."

The team's scoring average is up under Drummond, who has turned the team loose to push the ball upcourt and take open shots.

"Our team is pretty well-rounded," Whittle said. "Nobody is a whole lot better than anyone else, and so no one is selfish. We all like to share the ball - we don't care who scores as long as we score.

"We like to push the ball a lot more this year, get out and run. It's a lot of fun to play."

The Panthers haven't forgotten defense, though. One of the statistics that Drummond keeps is the number of charges drawn. Johnson leads the team in that category.

"He plays great defense, leads the team in charges drawn and has been a vocal leader for us," the coach said.

Cockrum has also played well defensively, according to Drummond, while averaging nine assists a game on offense. And he's done that while playing with a sports hernia suffered in the early season Freeman Parish Tournament.

McQueen is less talented physically that some of his classmates, but makes up for it with his style of play.

"He draws charges and always works hard on defense," Drummond said. "He probably has as big of a heart as anyone on the team."

He's going to be counting on those big hearts when the team takes on Avery with its size and athletic ability. Drummond said Avery has four players who weigh 30-40 pounds more than anyone on his team.

But, McQueen had the answer.

"We don't really have superstars," he said, "but when we all work together, we can make it come together."

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