The gym at Columbia High School opens at 5:30 a.m.
Jershon Cobb knows this because on most days he is the first one through the door. The Columbia senior beats daylight and prowls the hardwood for two hours several days a week before classes start.
Cobb, a 6-5 guard on Columbia’s state-ranked basketball team, uses the early morning hours to work on his ball-handling and shooting skills. But there’s more to it than that–when Cobb goes home after practices, he usually makes time for some weight lifting.
“It’s hard to get out of bed and get going, but I can see the benefits,” Cobb said. “I want to increase my strength for college, and you can always get better with your shot.”
The benefits of Cobb’s dedication are wide ranging. First, years of training and solid work ethic has made Cobb into one of the state’s top players. And because of that, he had scholarship offers from Cincinnati, Northwestern, Georgia, Georgia Tech, East Carolina, Clemson, Alabama and Texas-El Paso, to name a few. Cobb chose Northwestern.
“When I visited Northwestern, I knew it was the spot,” Cobb said. “It was the whole package – playing time, a Big 10 school, a good education. Everything I wanted was right there.”
Cobb may pursue a career in business management when he arrives on the Evanston, Ill., campus next fall.
But for now, Cobb is busy finishing out his high school career and trying to help his Columbia team make another run at a state championship. Columbia won state titles in 2006 and 2008, the latter when Cobb was a sophomore starting guard. The Eagles also lost in the state championship game in 2007.
The Eagles, who lost in the Class AAA state semifinals last season, are 15-5 this year. All five losses have come in contests against nationally ranked out-of-state teams.
“His whole high school career I think he’s only lost around 15 games and been to two state finals,” Columbia coach Phil McCrary said. “He doesn’t know anything other than winning. He’s one of the best players I’ve been around in a long time.”
Cobb is averaging 17.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He averages four assists per game and makes nearly 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. He showed his versatility two weeks ago against nationally ranked Oak Hill Academy (Va.) with 25 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
The statistics come easily for Cobb, and this season McCrary is working on making his star player more of a leader on the court.
“Coach is getting me to be more vocal,” Cobb said. “It’s different than what I’m used to. But you gotta step outside the box sometimes. I know it’s good for me to do that.”
McCrary has seen Cobb grow both physically and mentally in the past four seasons.
“He has a nice all-around game,” McCrary said. “He’s a combo-type guard and can create his own shot, drive to the basket and hit the mid-range jumpers. He’s just a winner.”
For Cobb, the winning began long before he first donned a Columbia uniform.
“I think I’ve only been on one losing team my whole life,” said Cobb, who grew up playing in rec leagues and now plays AAU ball for the Atlanta Express. “I always believe we’re going to win no matter what happens in a game.”
That belief was tempered last year by a loss to eventual state champion South Atlanta in the semifinals. The Eagles started the game slowly and played well in the second half before falling by nine points.
“That made me realize you have to leave everything out on the court,” Cobb said. “You have to go all out all the time.”
Cobb will take that philosophy with him to Northwestern. Wonder what time the doors open at Welsh-Ryan Arena, home of Northwestern’s basketball team?