Brad Cochran knows what a blessing it is to be able to go back out and play college basketball once again. His playing arrangement makes the story all the more interesting.
After six years away from playing in college and two season-ending injuries since his standout high school career at North Hall, Cochran, 27, was content with the fact that his playing career was almost surely over.
However, spending the past two seasons as an assistant boys basketball coach under Seth Vining at Lakeview Academy changed his mind. Cochran was reminded that coaching basketball was still his goal in life.
“Coaching basketball is my dream,” said Cochran, a 2003 North Hall High graduate who averaged 22 points a game his senior season.
There was only one thing missing: He never finished his college degree.
And with another year of basketball eligibility left, Cochran felt ready to give it one last try on the court. After sending out emails to college coaches, Shorter University was the one that was most interested.
After a tryout in the spring, he landed a spot on the roster for the upcoming season. It’ll be Cochran’s first time suiting up with a college program since the fall of 2006 at Division II North Georgia College & State University.
That’s compelling on its own: A former high school star who overcame a series of injuries, sparked his interest in coaching again and returned to the court in his late 20s.
It gets even more amazing when you introduce Austin Pearson into the equation. Pearson was a standout at Lakeview Academy that graduated in the spring. Known for his long-range shooting, Pearson grabbed the attention of plenty of scouts from the Gainesville private school.
However, after a tryout with Shorter University in the spring, he also decided that the school in Rome was the best fit for him.
That’s right: Player and former coach will be playing together in the fall for Shorter University.
“We definitely joke about it some,” Cochran said.
“I’m still going to kind of feel like he’s coaching me,” Pearson said.
Even though there is a 9-year gap in age between the two players, they have known each other for a number of years now. When Cochran was playing at North Georgia, he helped coach Pearson, then in middle school, in summer camp.
Fast forward a few years, and Cochran began dating Pearson’s sister, Kristen, and wound up in the bleachers at Lakeview to watch games, since she was a cheerleading advisor, according to Vining.
Cochran already knew Vining from his playing days with the Trojans. At the time, Vining was the coach at East Hall.
“I remember Brad coming to our games and he came up to me one day and asked if he could help with coaching,” Vining said. “Over the past two seasons, he’s been a very valuable part of our staff.”
So valuable to Lakeview Academy, in fact, that Cochran worked his way into the spot of head assistant varsity coach during the 2011-12 season. However, Cochran knew his career could only go so far without completion of his college degree.
In his long coaching career, Vining said he’s never seen an arrangement like this play out with the former coach/player duo going on to play for the same college program.
“I look forward to seeing them play at Shorter next year,” Vining said. “They are two super young men.”
Cochran was given plenty of input about how playing again would help him move on into a graduate assistant role after the season is complete with diploma in hand.
Cochran says that Lakeview girls coach John Carrick, a former coach at Georgia College, was in his ear telling him to get back out there and play again, along with receiving advice from his former coach from Wallace State Community College, Allen Sharpe. Cochran made four college stops before hanging it up the first time in the fall of 2006.
Cochran said spending time away from the court has certainly made him more focused and mentally mature on what he wants to accomplish.
“Even if I don’t play a minute, it will be good for my resumé,” Cochran said.
Cochran’s biggest question now is how his knees will hold up. His first ACL tear was his senior year of high school in the region tournament against Vining’s Vikings. Then he tore the ACL in his left knee during the fall of 2004 when he was planning to play at Truett-McConnell College. Cochran’s first year out of high school was at Middle Georgia College in 2003-04.
However, Cochran has had plenty of time to test his legs since then and feels he’s 100 percent. He plays plenty of pick-up basketball, split between the gym at Lakeview Academy and in the Family Life Center at First Baptist Church.
Neither Cochran nor Pearson expects it to be awkward playing college basketball together. They’ve played in enough games on the side together to break down that barrier of coach and player by now.
In fact, both went to the same tryout to Shorter in the spring. Pearson, who was rewarded with a partial scholarship, has respect for Cochran to go back and finish his degree to pursue his ultimate dream of coaching.
“He knows he needed to go back to school,” Pearson said. “I think it’s going to be fun getting to play together.”