Leah Cotton: Gopher guard has junior-year growing pains



It is known as a sophomore slump when a second-year player struggles, but thus far there is no known term when this occurs during a player’s third season. Call it what you want, but this is what U-M junior guard Leah Cotton currently is experiencing. 

Cotton averaged nine points in five non-league games, but since she was inserted in the Minnesota starting lineup by Minnesota Coach Pam Borton, the 5-8 guard’s scoring average is only 6.7 points in conference match-ups. Only three games has she shot 50 percent or better as a starter as well.

Her seven-point average overall is three points less than the 10.7 points per game Cotton had in her sophomore year last season.

Earlier this season, the young lady brimmed with confidence.

“I definitely would say I have settled down a bit from my freshman year,” admitted Cotton. “I feel much more comfortable playing basketball in general and being a part of the team… I feel I am playing smarter.”

Throughout her Gopher career to date, Cotton sometimes can play out of control, unnecessarily getting caught in foul situations. But she equally could make up for it with a heady play. “I’m trying to be smart and moving my feet,” she explained. “My teammates are always encouraging me to move my feet and don’t reach.”

Until recently Cotton once was the team’s most aggressive offensive player, showing a no-fear attitude as she drives to the basket — rookie Rachel Banham seemingly has snatched that title away from her.

Lately, however, we haven’t seen that attitude. Her play has become somewhat tentative, a clear sign of a player who is struggling. Perhaps she’s pressing a bit, exhibiting self-imposing pressure now that she’s starting.

“She’s got to stick with what she does well,” believes Borton. “Number one, she’s supposed to defend on the ball coming down the floor and set the tone for our defense. Offensively, her strength is to get to the freethrow line — I think she’s really settled for a lot of jump shots. She’s just got to get back to what she’d done well.”

Maybe she needs to readopt her self-check routine. Cotton earlier admitted: “When I get frustrated, I sometimes have to do something really silly, like a corny joke in my head to get my mind off [a mistake] because I tend to think about the play I’ve messed up.”

Fortunately, Cotton’s off court game has stayed on track: The family social science major and youth studies minor said, “Things are going well academically. I feel it’s much easier than the first two years. The first year I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do something with children but didn’t know what route to take. I feel in my second year, I was taking harder classes to get [them] out of the way.

“So now I am taking courses I’m more interested in,” she continued.

When asked if she sees herself as a leader on the team, “I do,” responded Cotton. “I’m more of a vocal leader and lead by example on and off the court.”

We want the old Cotton back. We need her penchant for sticking her nose in the other guard’s way to create a turnover to return in a big way. With the Gophers last week surpassing the halfway point of the Big Ten season, so do her teammates.

“I try to do the little things that make a difference,” reaffirmed Cotton. “I need to let go of the old play, and move on.”


I wonder…

Will Iowa State Coach Fred Hoiberg, who openly pushed guard Chris Allen during a timeout in last Saturday’s ISU-Kansas game, get suspended as was Morgan State’s Todd Bozeman for allegedly doing something similar? Allen angered the coach for something he did wrong during play and got face and push time with Hoiberg nearly immediately afterwards.

The ESPN-televised game just replayed the incident once then quickly resumed its typical ad nauseum yakety-yak broadcast with no further comment.

I guess it’s all right when a White coach gets to do this to a Black player under the guise of showing discipline or so-called tough love, but it’s criminal when a Black coach does it. Apparently it is fine at Iowa State but not at a HBCU. Smells and looks like a double standard practiced here.


I wonder II…

Are teams once again slip-sliding around the Rooney Rule, which mandates that teams must interview at least one Black candidate for their head coaching openings? The four new NFL head coaches hired thus far all have been White — the teams involved have not publicly discussed their coaching searches, seemingly resorting to status-quo hiring.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.