Ty Cockfield is someone who knows where he wants to be. And he’ll do whatever it takes to get there.
Even after finishing as the second-leading scorer for Arkansas State University’s basketball team his junior season, the shooting guard from Gainesville still felt there was work to be done. That’s when Red Wolves assistant coach Mike Scutero convinced Cockfield to return to school during the summer to fine tune his game, instead of going home to Georgia on break. The less-distracting campus environment and geographic location of Jonesboro, Arkansas makes it easy to focus, Cockfield said, so he stayed.
Scutero’s suggestion has paid off for the 6-foot, 185-pound senior. Cockfield has averaged 20.5 points — a six-point increase from last year — to lead all scorers for Arkansas State through all 15 starts.
“He also stays on me about being great, constantly. Making every shot I take, (it's) a game-winning shot — no matter if it’s the fourth-quarter or the first shot of the game,” Cockfield said of Scutero, the same coach who recruited him to Arkansas State. “Every shot, even in practice. Just think ‘game winner.’ Think ‘big shot’ every single time. ... Everything has to feel important.”
Cockfield has certainly played like it.
He can recall at least two occasions this season where he’s had to step up in key moments. Cockfield was named the Sun Belt Player of the week after dropping a career-high 34 points as Arkansas State knocked off Florida Atlantic in double-overtime on Dec., 14, 2018.
And against Gardner-Webb the month prior, Cockfield was the late boost the Red Wolves needed, scoring 10-straight points with a pair of layups and a 6 of 7 clip from the free throw line to help Arkansas State pull away for a 77-69 win Nov. 25. Cockfield also had a hand in the Red Wolves (7-8, 1-1 Sun Belt) notching their first SBC win over Louisiana-Lafayette Thursday night. Cockfield chipped in 18 points behind Marquis Eaton’s career-high 24 points and Grantham Gillard’s 20 in a 94-83 win against the Ragin’ Cajuns. He currently sits at No. 3 among all SBC scorers.
“He’s just a determined worker, a tireless worker,” said Jeff Steele, Cockfield’s former coach at Johnson High, who now holds the same position at Lumpkin County. “He has goals that he wants to reach, and he doesn’t let anything interrupt that or disturb that.”
Steele also noted a trip he and his wife took to Asheville N.C. earlier this season to watch Cockfield and his team play in a tournament. The longtime coach hopes to see Cockfield play again when Arkansas State comes to town for a conference showdown with Gainesville grad D’Marcus Simonds and Georgia State on Feb. 28 in Atlanta.
“He’s gotten so much physically stronger, that’s the main thing,” added Steele, who still speaks with Cockfield daily. “He’s shooting it better, decision making’s better. Just everything you would expect from Ty. I knew he had all this in him.”
In addition to shooting 44 percent from the field, the Johnson High grad is an efficient 81 percent (67 of 82) from the charity stripe, also averaging 3.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game for the Red Wolves to date.
It’s been quite the trek for the former first team all-state selection who boosted the Knights to a state quarterfinal appearance and 29-1 mark as a senior in 2015. Cockfield played his freshman season at Stetson University, then had a brief junior college stint before his return to Division I athletics.
But with that progress, each day, Cockfield feels a little closer to his dream of one day playing in the NBA.
“It’s something I’ve been praying for all my life, something I’ve been putting in work for all my life,” said Cockfield, who started all 32 games at Georgia Highlands college before transferring to Arkansas State. “Now I understand the work that my dad and all of my coaches, coach (Jeff) Steele, all of the work they told me to put in and told me that it would pay off. Now I understand why. I am one step closer to my goal every day.”
Having a coach that constantly keeps the intensity flowing on the court has certainly helped. Cockfield said head coach Mike Balado — who previously spent five seasons as an assistant at Louisville under two-time national champion coach Rick Pitino — has been an uplifting presence, and one who keeps him looking at the bigger picture.
Aside from noticing a tremendous improvement in his basketball IQ, Cockfield said his desire to be the best on-and-off the court has been an extreme change from last season.
It could be a little frustrating garnering more attention from opponents on most game nights too. The double — and sometimes — triple-teams don’t help either. It just comes with being a great player, he said.
But Cockfield still wants more. He wants more national recognition, and part of that is earning the SBC Player of the Year nod in his final season. Helping the Red Wolves to a championship is also high on his list.
Cockfield knows it’s going to take the work. And he welcomes the challenge.
“It’s been an amazing journey, from where things all started to where I am now,” Cockfield said. “Everything’s just paying off, and I’m gonna keep working toward my goals, to keep putting the city of Gainesville on the map even more.”