Championship is still the standard: One-on-one with Valley’s new leader on the hardwood

Published 11:38 am Saturday, May 25, 2024

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A new era is set to begin at Valley High School. The Rams announced the hiring of Robert Cotton as the new basketball coach on Wednesday to replace long-time head coach Marshon Harper. The new era officially began on Friday as Cotton held tryouts and met his players for the first time. 

Cotton graduated from Lanett in 1982 as a three-year basketball player under Dan Washburn and Thurmond Billingslea. Cotton took his first job as an assistant coach at LaGrange High School in 1992.
Cotton spent the next 32 years of his career serving as a coach in Georgia. Cotton felt like it was time to come home and start something new. Being close to his family was important to him, and the opportunity to coach at Valley became available at the perfect time.
Valley assistant coach Ryan Winston told Cotton about a job fair at Valley. Then, everything seemed to come into place for Cotton to become the new leader of the Rams. 

“The reason that made me come back home is simple because of my grandkids,” Cotton said. “My grandkids are in Columbus, and I’ve already done 32 years in Georgia. It was just time to try something new. I wasn’t planning for this, it just happened. I have to give credit to coach Winston.” 

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Having 32 years of experience may lead to believe that Cotton is stuck in his ways as a coach, but he believes it could not be further from the truth.
Cotton is following one of the best, if not the best, basketball coaches in Valley’s history. Cotton understands the responsibility of filling those shoes, and he does not plan to get rid of the culture Harper built. 

Cotton also believes that the standard should be the same for the Rams. Cotton does not plan on having a rebuilding year, he wants to chase a championship in year one. 

“Ain’t nothing broke, it’s already fixed. I’m going to keep the same tempo,” Cotton said. “What we’re known for, the Running Rams, we’re going to keep on running. I’m just going to tweak a little bit of stuff.” 

“I’m coming behind some big shoes,” Cotton added. “I’m chasing a ring. I didn’t come here to be average. The little charm I got is called believe. They have to believe in me like I have to believe in them.” 

Cotton plans to keep the same up-tempo offense that Valley has been known for, but he is a defensive-minded coach. Cotton believes in having players physically ready to play a surplus of minutes. 

The defense under Cotton will largely involve the full-court press. Cotton likes to make opponents uncomfortable because a stifling defense can help overcome inefficiencies on offense. 

“My main thing is defense, effort,” Cotton said. “We can have a bad night on defense, but we’re never going to have a bad night on hustle, effort, playing defense, having a positive attitude and playing as a team. I might only take 10-12 on varsity. If you’re good enough to play, I’m going to play you because I want to have fresh legs.” 

“I’m getting off the bus pressing, and if you’re coming here, I’m meeting you at the door,” Cotton said. “I think I’m a defensive-minded specialist, if I was doing football, I would want to do defense too.” 

Basketball has evolved more than any sport over the decade. Cotton has had to evolve his coaching while the game has changed around him, but some aspects have remained the same. 

Cotton believes that too many teams have begun to ignore the defensive side of the court, and his team will have an advantage due to his emphasis on defensive effort. 

“The style of play is more offensive,” Cotton said. “If you keep preaching defense, my defense makes my offense. If you sit there and lean on the offense all the time, and you don’t believe in defense, what are you going to fall on?” 

Player accountability is something that Cotton expects to instill as Valley’s head coach. While the game-time decisions will be up to Cotton, the players will dictate their minutes based on their conditioning, attitude and discipline on and off the court. 

“I want the parents and community to know, my players are in control of their minutes, not me,” Cotton said. “It’s how you perform in practice, how you do in the hallway. I don’t believe in discipline problems. We’re going to keep moving, with you or without you.” 

Cotton is a player’s coach. Cotton wants to be involved in every aspect of his player’s life because every player has to be coached differently based on what they go through outside of the court. 

Cotton wants to see his players become productive members of society, and he wants to continue being a part of their lives after high school. 

“We’re going to eat together,” Cotton said. “We’re also going to attend a lot of churches together… I’m more concerned about how a kid is living. I can’t get on a kid unless I go home with him. “

“If I have a senior right now, the next six to eight years is going to determine how they’re living when they’re 70,” Cotton added. “When they get ready to quit something, they’re not going to want to quit because they’re going to think about coach Cotton.” 

Cotton met his players for the first time on Friday. Tryouts are usually centered around the fundamentals, and that was an aspect of Friday’s trout, but Cotton also wanted to see which players would get after each other and play with a certain level of intensity in a scrimmage scenario. 

“I want to see if they’re hungry, I’m going to watch their body language, are they a team player,” Cotton said. “I’m going to see the little things.”