There has been a lot of change on the area basketball landscape over the past nine years, but the one constant on hardwoods is West Chester Rustin and Keith Cochran.
Since the school was opened in 2006, the Golden Knights basketball team has been led by Cochran, who has led the Knights from their infancy with his teams always mimicking his tough, brash bravado as he stalks the sideline like a tiger looking for his prey.
In 2006, the Golden Knights compiled a 1-21 record in their inaugural season, but Cochran never wavered and neither did his kids. He simply would not let them wilt under the criticism and the opposing stands taunts.
In fact, Cochran has molded the Knights into one of the top teams in District 1 Class AAAA and is always a factor in the Ches-Mont League. Cochran talked about one defining moment in that 2006 season.
“We had a player named Trevor Birdweel who was injured and had not played a minute that season,” Cochran said. “We were on the bus coming home from Coatesville after a 33 point loss and I said to the kids ‘What do I have to do to turn this around?’ Trevor said, ‘Coach, don’t worry, wait till I get healthy.’
“Right there the whole bus cracked up and I knew the kids had faith in me and that they were ready to give 100 percent to get this turned around.”
And turn around the Knights surely did, winning a Ches-Mont League title in 2009 and getting to the title game against Coatesville the following season. The Knights have qualified for the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs three times under Cochran, going to the quarterfinal round once and been a district playoff team six times.
But wins and losses aside, the thing that stands out about Cochran’s teams is that they play harder than any other Ches-Mont League team year in and year out no matter the talent level. And to be blunt, in a three school district, sometimes the pickings are scarce.
“I don’t think about how good we would be if there was still one or two schools,” Cochran said. “I am from Cleveland, Ohio and we are tough people who just go with the way things are. I want kids that will give 110 percent and will give them back 110 percent and it is all about the kids and teaching them about academics and basketball along with making their high school years something they want to remember.”
One of Cochran’s biggest rivals over the last nine years has been Gene Lambert and Octorara. The teams have played number of very intense contests during the stretch.
“When you play Rustin you know it is going to be a tough, physical, defensive game,” Lambert said. “Keith’s teams are always prepared and tough. Last year we were clearly better than them but we lost to them because we did not match their intensity and they get them from Keith.”
When asked how he turned around a team that went 1-21 into one of the most respected teams in the district, Cochran gives all the credit to the kids.
“The kids we had, Rondell White, Lazarr Asparaus, and Raheem White all took it upon themselves to turn it around,” Cochran said. “They were passionate, as I am about basketball and they dedicated themselves to starting a tradition at Rustin and they worked and worked to get better. They gave me everything they had and I will give the kids more than I am capable of as their coach.”
Another rival of Cochran’s was Oxford and their stellar former coach Sean Harvey. After a close game in the 2014 season that was hotly contested and resulted in a Oxford victory, Harvey may have paid the Golden Knights leader the best compliment.
“Keith’s teams mirror his intensity no matter how good his players are,” Harvey said. “You know you are always in for a battle when you play Rustin.”
“I am passionate about basketball and young people,” Cochran said. “When the kids were 0-19 that first season, I remember a practice when they went full steam the entire time and right then I knew we would turn it around. I want kids that want to be with us and I do not worry about things I can not control. I am honored to be the first and only basketball coach Rustin has had and I take it very seriously.”
The man they call “Coach Keith” has another rebuilding season ahead for his 10th year at Rustin. At this point no one can predict the final won and loss record, but one thing is certain.
The tall man patrolling the sideline for the Golden Knights, constantly imploring his team will give his kids everything he has every day.
Cochran is truly what a coach should be.
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