Rick’s Sports Corner: Hoops Guru, Sid Cooke Knows How To Win

A true basketball junkie, the onetime player hopes to turn around the fortunes of the Bulldogs.


By Rick Assad

Sid Cooke’s basketball teams didn’t win every game or every CIF Southern Section playoff match, but they captured their share of games and titles.

Beginning at Renaissance Academy in Altadena and now in his second year as the Burbank High boys’ hoop coach, Cooke has produced victories.

Cooke’s tenure at Renaissance Academy began in 2000 and ended in 2016 and during that span the Wildcats claimed two CIF championships and a pair of CIF Southern California State regional titles.

Those teams advanced to six CIF Finals in three different divisions and were the Division V state runner-up twice.

And to put these accomplishments into perspective, that’s a mighty impressive resume.

Though still early, Cooke, who was also an assistant coach at Glendale Community College for three seasons before stepping foot onto the Burbank campus, hopes to bring the same kind of results to the Bulldogs.

Ben Burnham was a key member of last season’s team, which was Sid Cooke’s first as the head coach. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

“My teams were successful because they bought in and believed in each other,” Cooke explained. “My philosophy is, start with and teach basic fundamentals at every phase, then reinforce everyday. Most importantly, always play the right way and practice with focus.”

Cooke was grounded in the fundamentals.

“My mentors were Carl Boldt, who played with Bill Russell at the University of San Francisco and won two NCAA titles [1955 and 1956],” he said. “George Terzian, a legendary Pasadena High coach, who also coached at Pasadena City College and Richard (Dick) Marquis, who is the founder of the original NBA summer league.”

Along with Boldt, a 6-foot-5 forward who played at Verdugo Hills and GCC, Russell and K.C. Jones, both James Naismith Hall of Famers and multiple NBA champions with the Boston Celtics, the Dons were a true powerhouse, winning at one juncture 60 straight games under Phil Woolpert, the coach.

Cooke went on: “Their knowledge and basketball IQ gave me an insight that’s invaluable to this day. They’re great teachers and they’re great people,” he said.

The Bulldogs are coming off a subpar campaign in which they went 10-17 overall and 5-9 in the Pacific League.

In Burbank’s two games against city rival Burroughs, the Bulldogs lost at home 70-57, but bounced back with a 46-42 triumph on the road.

On another good note, the team ended the campaign with three consecutive victories.

Burbank knocked off visiting Hoover 50-48, edged past visiting Arcadia 83-76 and held off the Indians by four points to cap the season.

“My first year was tough in the beginning because the players had gone through two previous coaches in a short time and so many of the seniors had to learn another new system,” Cooke said. “But at the end of the year, we played much better in the second half of the league and the players returning really believe that we will be an improved team with several key players coming back.”

The Bulldogs played pressure defense under first-year coach Sid Cooke, and it made for a better second half of the season. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

When matters weren’t going so smoothly, Cooke, who played in the European Basketball League in 1989, never panicked.

“I don’t worry about teams that are in a funk because when they are in it, I try to stay positive,” he said. “I make adjustments and tell them just to keep doing the right things and play hard and that it will work itself out and as long as they progress, that’s all you can really ask for.”

A defensive guru, Cooke knows the importance of putting the basketball into the hoop, but also realizes the game is also about stopping the other team.

“I feel defense is more important because it can disrupt a team,” he said of its overall importance to winning.

The 2020-2021 basketball season won’t start until early next year and Cooke thinks it will be a prosperous one, despite the fact that the coronavirus is still present.

“COVID-19 has been disappointing because we were just starting to get going practice-wise and had hoped to play in the summer and fall,” he said.

This would have allowed the squad to get a sense of each other, which would help immensely when the season actually begins.

Any and all victories are satisfying, but some do stand out for Cooke, who played basketball at South Pasadena for two seasons, PCC and then Eastern Oregon College.

“I’d say my biggest win was the 2008 CIF Southern Section Regional State Championship as we beat Price led by NBA player Allen Crabbe, who played with the Minnesota Timberwolves last season, Askia Booker, who played at the University of Colorado and Tyreese Breshers, who played at the University of Washington,” he said.

Crabbe, a Gatorade Player of the Year for California and Mr. Basketball, is a 6-6 small forward who played at UC Berkeley and was drafted in the second round by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Booker is a 6-2 point guard who is toiling in the Chinese Basketball Association for the Shenzhen Aviators.

Breshers is a 6-7 small forward who played for the Huskies until his redshirt sophomore season when the team doctor found out that he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy heart disease, which is what killed Loyola Marymount University’s Hank Gathers in 1990 at age 23.

Getting better each day and giving everything you have on the court are the two primary concerns for Cooke.

“The most satisfying thing is seeing the development of the players and with that comes the improvement of the team and the program as a whole,” he said.

Chomping at the bit, Cooke is anxious to begin yet another successful prep basketball season.