When Austin Cobb picks up a racket this spring, he’ll be one of the most accomplished players in the state, with a N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A doubles runner-up finish and 4A team state championship already to his credit.
But instead of private tennis lessons this offseason, Cobb was on a different court, training to join the team’s standout boys basketball team, which has played in the “final four” in each of the past two seasons.
After three years of solely playing tennis for Millbrook, Cobb – who hadn’t played organized basketball since he was in the eighth grade – made the Wildcats’ hoops team. In an era of specialization, Cobb used his senior year to open up the possibilities.
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It was kind of like a joke in the hall. It was like ‘Coach I’m coming out.’ We didn’t think he would make it, and he just had a great three days (of tryouts).
Millbrook boys’ basketball coach Scott McInnes
“Nowadays if you want to be elite at a sport, you have to choose,” Cobb said. “I went with tennis freshman, sophomore and junior year. I always liked basketball, so for the whole summer there was just a desire I had. All I could think about was ‘I just wanted to play basketball for Millbrook.’”
Earning his spot
Cobb spent the fall working on his game at a local church, he said, which was time he could have spent playing tennis. When he told Wildcats basketball coach Scott McInnes about his plans to pursue the second sport, McInnes wasn’t sure to take Cobb seriously.
“It was kind of like a joke in the hall,” McInnes said.
Many hope to play basketball for Millbrook, which entered this week undefeated. But the 6-foot-5 Cobb – often mistaken for a basketball player before becoming one – impressed McInnes.
“We didn’t think he would make it, and he just had a great three days (of tryouts),” McInnes said.
Once tryouts started, McInnes said he saw a player with a great feel for the game who could pass the ball and was impressive on the boards. Cobb made the team, but McInnes was upfront with him about minutes.
“I told him as long as you are comfortable with coming to practice and working everyday ... look, you might not play,” McInnes said. “He was willing to do that. That was the deal set before him. He bought in. He’s playing super hard and getting better every day.”
Cobb said he “left it all on the floor and left it up to the coaches” during tryouts.
Once he made the team, Cobb had to make the switch from Millbrook Maniac (the school’s student section) to team member. Cobb had watched basketball games with the Maniacs the last three years.
I’m loving being on the team.
Millbrook senior Austin Cobb
“I would be watching and think, ‘If I could be out there that would be really fun,’ ” Cobb admitted.
Now, the Maniacs cheer – wildly – for him.
“It’s awesome, because he’s always been with us, so to see him get this opportunity, it’s truly amazing,” said Millbrook senior Bryce Carnevale, who is a current Maniac.
Since Cobb is a fan favorite, the Maniacs will chant for McInnes to put him in the game, serenading the gym with “We want Austin!”
Cobb appreciates the gesture, but he said it makes it seem like it’s about him instead of all of the Wildcats.
“I’d rather the attention be on the team than me getting in the game,” he said.
Cobb is currently applying for college and said he has some offers to play tennis at a few Division II schools. He expects other opportunities to play tennis at the next level to come his way, but said his time away from tennis right now is putting him behind the competition.
That’s a price he was willing to pay to live out his dream of suiting up for the Wildcats basketball team.
His playing time this season has come mainly in mop-up duty when Millbrook is blowing out its opponent. His career highlight has been a two-point, two-rebound game Dec. 5 against Harrells Christian Academy.
But Cobb does not second guess his choice one bit.
“I’m loving being on the team,” Cobb said with no hesitation. “No regrets.”