Cooks primed for NCAA Tournament showdown

ILLAWARRA basketball star Xavier Cooks is ready to shine on college sports’ biggest stage when Winthrop open their NCAA Tournament campaign against Butler on Friday.

FOCUS: Xavier Cooks. Picture: Sylvia Liber

FOCUS: Xavier Cooks. Picture: Sylvia Liber

Cooks, the son of Illawarra Hawks assistant coach Eric Cooks, and the 13th seeded Eagles will take to the court in Milwaukee at around 4.30am (AEDST). They will take on fourth seeds Butler University – the alma mater of Hawks MVP Rotnei Clark – who finished second with a 23-8 record in the Big East Conference.

It’s a case of third time lucky for the Eagles, who claimed the Big South Conference championship earlier this month after falling at the final hurdle in 2016 and 2015. The result saw Winthrop seeded 13th, the program's highest seed since drawing an 11 in 2007.

The jubilation, though, was short-lived with Eagles coach Pat Kelsey telling ESPN: “ I went into the locker room to address our guys and they're ready to get started preparing.

“The jubilation was the other day when we won the championship and cut the nets down. They're a hungry bunch and ready to get to work."

Cooks has enjoyed an outstanding junior year with Winthrop, averaging 16.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game alongside diminutive scoring whiz Keon Johnson (22.5 ppg.) The potent scoring tandem helped the Eagles to a 26-6 season that included a 17-2 finish with their only two losses coming in overtime while two of their six losses overall came on the road to Atlantic 10 conference champions Dayton and tournament seed Florida State.

Butler will be led by star junior Kelan Martin, who averaged 16 points and five rebounds during the Bulldogs campaign.

NCAA Tournament: Butler v Winthrop, Friday 4.30am (AESDT), ESPN 508

Eric Cooks

Eric Cooks