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Senior Ty Cockfield peaking at right time for Johnson basketball
Guard using practice as motivation to improve each day for undefeated Knights
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Johnson's Ty Cockfield works with assistant coach Grant Cagle at practice on Jan. 29. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Terry Brownlee was close to heading to bed at around 3 a.m. one January morning when he noticed his phone had lit up with a text message.

In the back of his mind, Brownlee already knew who it was.

And that he wasn’t about to get sleep anytime soon.

“It’s Ty,” he recounted. “He was up and asks ‘Can we get in the gym?’ I put some stuff together and we headed out there. He’s always wanting to get out there.”

Johnson High’s Ty Cockfield has been working out with Brownlee, a local trainer with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County, about three days out of every week, putting up “at least 1,000” shots a session as the senior guard nears the end of his final regular season.

Sometimes, those shootarounds will take place at the break of dawn or the stroke of midnight.

That doesn’t bother Cockfield, who’s happy to wake up Johnson coach Jeff Steele at all hours to see if he could unlock the doors of the Frank J. Knight gymnasium.

“I’d call him up, he’d be in bed and I’d say ‘I need to get to the gym in the morning,’” said Cockfield, with a smile. “It’s what you do when you’re in a gym all alone that translates to what happens in game time.”

Cockfield is entering the prime of his high school career as the Johnson Knights edge toward the school’s first-ever undefeated regular season. Johnson (22-0, 6-0 in Region 8-AAAA) is on top of its region in no small part thanks to Cockfield’s average of 30 points and six assists per contest.

His recent production has been even better. Cockfield has scored 40 points or more in three of his last six games, including region wins over Buford (46 points) and North Oconee (44).

A commitment to practice and a rededication to fundamentals have paved the way for Cockfield, who has received offers from Cleveland State, Florida A&M and Stetson, the chance to show Division I schools they shouldn’t be sleeping on the 6-foot-1 guard.

“He’s gotten physically stronger, and he’s definitely shown he can shoot the ball,” said Steele. “When you’re (shooting) about 45 percent from the three, it presents a whole new set of problems for a defense.”

Cockfield said his renewed passion for practice stems from a feeling of being “overlooked” by college scouts during his previous years. He would regularly travel to summer camps and tournaments throughout the South during the offseason, but found himself passed over in favor of taller shooting guards.

“I was blessed with the ability to score, but I wasn’t blessed with a scoring guard’s height,” he said. “They’d be looking at kids who were 6-foot-5 and all that. So everyone says, ‘Can he shoot? Can he pass?”

Cockfield knew he needed to develop his shooting ability and immediately went to work with Brownlee and Steele, starting from the rim and branching out ever-so-slowly as he honed his accuracy. The work, slow-but-steady, has turned into results for the senior, who can regularly make shots while being double-teamed by the defense.

He knocked down four off-balance field goals, including two three-pointers with a hand in his face, in a pivotal third quarter against North Oconee that helped erase a 2-point halftime deficit.

While Johnson has fallen prey to slow starts, Cockfield has largely been the engine of some notable comebacks to keep the unbeaten streak alive. The Knights gave up 40 points by halftime to Apalachee on Jan. 17 before Cockfield rattled off a career-high 46 points, including 28 in the fourth quarter alone in a 82-76 win.

In practice, Steele is likely to put more than five defenders out on the court to see if they can slow the senior down, according to fellow senior Roderick English.

“Coach pushes him,” English said. “The other teams will throw some junk on him to try and get him off his game, so that’s what we do to make it tougher before a game.”

Cockfield works hard because he knows the feeling of being overlooked. He played a total of six varsity games in his freshman year for Gainesville High before moving to Johnson to get more playing time. Since then, he’s improved his scoring output by at least six points each year, and is on track to get near his 2,000th point if Johnson goes deep into the state playoffs.

With programs like Florida Gulf Coast, Clemson, UConn, Georgia Southern and George Mason keeping his phone busy, Cockfield harbors dreams of taking his game to the professional level.

Until then, he’ll keep taking those thousand shots to prove his worth. He’ll take them until no-one can afford to overlook him.

“In the next three or four years, I want to be playing in the NBA,” he said. “Professional basketball. It’s that chip on my shoulder. I’ve come up short before, but those times make me stronger. I can be whatever my heart desires. I believe if you work hard, and keep God first, he’ll repay you and everything else will follow.”

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