Cook reveals secret to GRC boys basketball’s success

Published 9:58 am Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Rotary Club of Winchester is no secret to seeing quality speakers inside and outside Clark County.

Recently, some current and future stars of the George Rogers Clark High School basketball program and esteemed head coach Josh Cook represented the program.

The three members of the team, which has started the year undefeated and is ranked by multiple sources in the state’s Top 25, spoke to local citizens during the Rotary meeting held at the Winchester Country Club on 410 Boone Avenue.

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“I’m blessed to be a part of the game, and basketball teaches life lessons,” said Cook, who also serves as a physical education teacher at the school. “It’s a team game…you have to have guys that make sacrifices.”

To sports fans throughout the state, George Rogers Clark High School basketball needs little introduction.

Previously led by the recently graduated Jerone Morton, among other athletes, the team has won four straight 10th Region Championships – earning them the right to play at the KHSAA Sweet 16 state basketball tournament at Rupp Arena.

While the first of those four championship wins in 2020 can be remembered with some bittersweet feelings, as their opportunity to play in the tournament ended due to cancellation via COVID, the last three years have provided impressive results.

An Elite Eight finish in 2001 was immediately followed by a state championship in 2022, when they went 37-1 – defeating every in-state opponent they faced, including runner-up Warren Central.

Last season, they nearly became the first school in over 30 years to repeat as champions but fell narrowly in a rematch with Warren Central to finish as runner-up.

With several losses due to graduation, this season’s convincing 7-0 start has been a pleasant sight for many.

Accompanying Cook were two players of very different backgrounds, JP Gaines and Montez Gay.

Gaines, one of two seniors who has been with the team continuously since their state championship-winning 2021-22 season, is currently in the starting lineup.

After playing varsity sparingly in 2022, he came out strong last season en route to being heralded as the team’s sixth man and gaining frequent playing time.

With future hopes to be an electrician, Gaines acknowledged that this would be his last season playing basketball.

Cook spoke about the value Gaines, a team captain, brings to the squad.

“You have to have the blue-collar guys…that are completely team first,” Cook said. “It’s not about stats for JP. It’s about giving effort.”

Montez Gay, a freshman, has already garnered a college offer from Eastern Kentucky University and figures to be a top player for years to come.

“I just try to go out there and play my hardest,” Gay said. “We play together!”

Cook, who is married with a young daughter, lives in Winchester after previous coaching stops in locations that included Mercer County.

As a coach, he admitted that – while winning is exciting – his plans go beyond that.

“I love the idea of chasing something bigger…but that whole goal to me, of being successful as a coach, is to help these young kids [and] also get the opportunity to help my family,” he said. “My goals will always be to build teams [and] build individuals to be the best they can be.”

At Clark County Public Schools (CCPS), Cook has found a supportive environment.

He spoke highly of leadership, including CCPS Superintendent Dustin Howard.

Cook also added that he found much to love about Winchester and Clark County.

“It’s a great town, and I think people care about people,” he said. “You can see that here. You can see the relationships.”

Working with a group of young men, Cook talked about motivating others.

“I try to read a couple quotes a day to give me some type of either motivation or reflection on life,” Cook said.

Among other concepts brought up based on quotes he’s read, Cook emphasized falling forward and focusing on the good, better, and the best.

He also stated that focusing on the larger perspective was essential, even if times seemed challenging.

“Happiness is not by chance but by choice,” Cook said. “No matter your circumstance or your situation, everything is a blessing.”

Regarding team and individual futures, the state championship-winning coach acknowledged making plans while looking ahead.

“You have to talk about where you want to be. It’s almost talking young men into believing that they’re going to be there”, he said. “We’ve had the opportunity to go to Rupp Arena the last three years. Our plan is to be there. There’s always the chance that it won’t happen, but we have to believe. We have to talk about it. That is our goal and expectation, and as long as I’m here, I plan to hopefully have [it] stay the same.”