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January 15, 2014

Southfield Christian senior continuing to do what he does best

By Christian Davis
C & G Sports Writer

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Southfield Christian senior Ben Cookinham (4) heads upcourt in a game earlier this season. Cookinham has helped lead the Eagles to a 6-1 overall mark at press time.

SOUTHFIELD — Southfield Christian boys basketball coach Josh Baker knows it’s a role that every good team has on its roster.

The player that disregards his body in attempt to chase down a loose ball or puts himself right in front of the opponent bearing down on the basket, all in hopes of a charge.

Every team, as Baker believes, needs a ‘hustle guy.’

For the past three seasons, senior Ben Cookinham has embraced the role, helping lead the Eagles to back-to-back Class D state championships with stats that rarely show up in the scorebook but instead are witnessed and respected by his coaches and teammates alike.

“He’s been a great leader for us. He buys into everything; he does everything we ask him to do, and he’s a really coachable kid,” Baker said. “Whatever it is, he’s willing to do it. Guys like that are invaluable.

“All the guys respect him and talk about how hard he works. You just can’t have enough guys like that.”

Cookinham has seen his minutes increase on the floor each year he’s played. As a sophomore, he said he saw about eight minutes of game action. Last season it was around 15, and this year, he said he’s playing roughly 24 minutes a game.

“The biggest thing coaches have pressed on me is making the effort plays, the hustle plays. Sophomore year, that’s all I did. I came in, took some charges and dived on the loose balls,” Cookinham said. “Really, I haven’t changed.”

However, there is a difference this year for the Eagles, which were 6-1 overall at press time and 2-0 in the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue Division, including a win against rival Inter-City Baptist.

Baker has been able to only coach one game this season and isn’t sure how many he’ll be able to attend by the end of the year.

The coach has been busy with the new additions of his family. Baker and his wife, Courtney, have five children 2 years old and younger, including two sets of twin boys, the last pair coming to the family just recently.

“It’s tough. Coaching is what I’ve done for the last 11 or 12 years. I’m proud of my team. I’m proud of our guys, and I think we have a chance to be a great team,” Baker said. “Obviously, I miss it, but it’s an incredible joy to be with my (children). That’s the one downside to coaching — the hours you miss with the little ones — so to be home with them is a lot of fun.”

In Baker’s absence, the duties for the most part have been left to assistant coaches Clennie Brundidge, Dave Hart and John White.

“When we found out in the summer that we were having twins, I sat down with the coaches and said, ‘Look, this is going to be my responsibility, so I’m going to need you guys to step up and take my role,’” Baker remembered.

Baker said the coaches have done a great job, and because much of the responsibility was already evenly divided in most aspects, the transition has been mostly seamless.

Plus, Baker is the principal of the middle school and often sees his players and keeps in touch with his assistants on a regular basis.

“We’re still connected,” Brundidge said. “He still has his input and what he expects to happen.”

Cookinham said it has been an adjustment without Baker there.

“But coach Brundidge, Hart and White all have huge impacts. We miss Coach Baker and love him, but know when he’s ready to come back, he’ll be back,” Cookinham said.

Baker said he hopes to be on the bench by the end of the year, but it will be in more of an assistant role for the time being. Next season, he plans to be part of the team full-time.

In the meantime, Cookinham and the rest of his teammates are working on perfecting their roles, working on getting their third straight title

“I want to get every loose ball, take every charge possible, because I want to make an impact,” Cookinham aid. “I know I’m not as athletic as (many of my teammates), but I know if I play hard, I know I can play with them. Everyone needs a hustle guy, so that’s my job.”

Catch the Eagles against Novi Franklin Road Christian at 7 p.m. Jan. 16 on the road.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Christian Davis at cdavis@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1062. Twitter Follow Christian on Twitter.