By JONAMAR JACINTO
Mary Cotton already had guard skills when she arrived at Lathrop High, but coach Dwayne Davis saw potential for much more out of the lanky freshman.
She leaves as one of the top all-around talents to come out of a Manteca Unified school.
The 6-foot-1 Cotton displayed her wide-ranging skill set during Lathrop’s historic two-year run, and she’s the Manteca Bulletin All-Area MVP once again after splitting the award with then-teammate Myani Thornton a year ago.
Cotton was a handful for opposing teams on both ends of the floor, from the post out the perimeter. She averaged 16.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.7 steals and 3.2 blocks as a senior and led her team with 43 made 3-pointers.
“I take a lot of pride of that,” Cotton said of her well-rounded game. “I was a guard almost all my life, but when I started varsity my sophomore year, I was the tallest one on the team. Coach taught me how to play the post. The whole plan was for me to play guard but to learn how to play big, and I am really glad coach did that.”
Coach also demanded that she take over games more often, which goes against her unselfish nature. Cotton did have her moments.
She amassed 29 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, four steals and six blocks in a 51-48 loss to Dana Hills in the SoCal Holiday Prep Classic in San Diego. In league, she torched Los Banos for 29 points and 20 rebounds. And in postseason play, Cotton outdueled 6-2 center Donja Payne, a former AAU teammate, in a 44-21 first-round victory, totaling 17 points, 11 boards and seven blocks.
“I don’t like to be a ball hog,” Cotton said. “I mean, I’ll get my buckets, but I like to get everybody else involved. I don’t want to be the whole show. It’s a team effort.”
She did steal the show in the recent NorCal Sports TV All-NorCal Games, leading the Stan-Joaquin All-Stars to a 92-81 win over the Central Section. She scored a game-high 22 points, drained four 3-pointers and was named MVP.
Cotton was also MVP in the 5th annual Central Valley Senior Showcase.
“That was a lot of fun, and everybody was talented in those games,” Cotton said. “I didn’t care about starting or coming off the bench, I was just happy my shots were falling.”
Lathrop earned its first championship in 2017-18 as co-titlist in the Valley Oak League. The Spartans went on to reach the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV final and the CIF Northern California Regional Championships.
Cotton and Co. hoped to surpass all of those milestones this year. They again settled for a title share, this time in the Western Athletic Conference. She was voted co-MVP in the league along with Beyer’s Alicia Jones.
“It meant a lot for me to get MVP after I didn’t get it junior year in the VOL,” Cotton said. “I don’t mind sharing it, Alicia is a good player. It just felt good to get it in the first place.”
Lathrop’s postseason run ended in the second round of the SJS Division III tournament. After routing district rival East Union, the Spartans were pitted against defending champion Christian brothers on the road. It was competitive for a half, but foul trouble and inconsistent shooting helped lead to their 58-44 defeat.
“We thought we could beat them, even as the lower seed,” Cotton said. Her Spartans were seeded seventh, while Christian Brothers was second. No. 8 Bradshaw Christian upset the Falcons 52-49 in the final.
“Going in we had a good mentality and started off good, but then we started to relax — including me. I was passing up shots instead of taking over, and in the third and fourth quarters we just couldn’t turn it around.”
The loss stung Cotton, who wanted to finish what the 2017-18 team started. She also enjoyed her time with teammates.
“We’re not just friends on the court, but sisters off the court,” Cotton said. “Playing with them taught me a lot and we worked so well together.”
Cotton aims to test her talents at the next level and beyond. For now, junior colleges and NCAA Division II schools have shown the most interest. Her goal is to eventually play professionally in the WNBA or overseas.
“All I know is I want to play basketball and keep going as far as I can with it,” she said. “Whatever God wills for me, I’ll do it.”