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Beyond the Scoreboard: Cottrells are first family of WNC basketball

With his father and coach Michael Cottrell looking on, Josh Cottrell scores against Murphy. (Photo credit: Kelli Graves)

For much of the past 37 years, a member of the Cottrell family has been shooting a basketball with great success in high-school gyms across Western North Carolina.

That family scoring dynasty will come to an end soon when the eligibility of Hayesville High senior Josh Cottrell expires, but it is a run unmatched in this history of this area and perhaps in this state.

Father Michael, who coaches Josh at Hayesville, along with Zach – Josh’s older brother – are all three ranked among WNC’s top career scorers.

Throw in the considerable efforts of Michael’s siblings – sister Laura and older brother Todd – and the high-school point total of five Cottrells from Cullowhee and Hayesville high schools total more 9,600 points.

Throw in the college numbers of Michael, Laura and Zach, and the count soars to more than 12,000 points.

And the number is expected to grow. Zach is a junior on the Appalachian State team and Josh has committed to play at Western Carolina, where his grandfather Steve coached the Catamounts to a 145-133 record from 1977-87.

Talk about an enduring dynasty – this is the 41st consecutive year a member of the Cottrell family has either coached or played basketball in the mountains.

And with Michael still going strong as coach of the Hayesville boys at age 49, who knows how much longer the first family of WNC basketball will continue to impact area hoops.

And Michael credits his father Steve with the good genes and passing on the love of basketball through the generations.

“My dad was an excellent player in high school and college, and I think my mom was a good athlete,” Michael said.

“Basketball is something we do (as a family), but it’s not who we are. We always try to keep that in perspective, even though basketball is very important to us.”

While Steve was winning games with the Catamounts, Michael was embarking on a career unmatched

in the history of WNC high-school boys basketball.

From 1983-87, the long-range shooting specialist scored 2,503 points at Cullowhee High, a 1A school that later consolidated with Sylva-Webster to form Smoky Mountain.

More than 30 years later, Cottrell’s total still stands as the career scoring record among local boys players.

One of his teammates at Cullowhee High was older brother Todd, who scored 1,125 career points and went on to throw for 3,933 yards as a quarterback at WCU.

Mike originally signed to play for his father with the Catamounts, but when Steve left the program in 1987 Mike moved on to Lenoir-Rhyne, where he scored 1,456 career points.

Steve took over the Hayesville High boys program in 1988 and posted a 183-109 record in 12 seasons.

When he retired in 1999, Michael took over, and he’s posted a 369-136 mark with the program, which includes the 2004 1A state title.

When Steve came to Hayesville, he brought his youngest child, daughter Laura. In four seasons with the Yellowjackets, Laura produced 2,141 points and 1,178 rebounds while helping the program to four state 1A titles. She was part of a dynasty that produced six straight state championships (1987-93) under coach Darryl McClure.

Laura would go on to a standout career at Clemson, where she scored 1,108 points and grabbed 808 rebounds.

And like their father and brother, Todd (Lake View Academy in Georgia) and Laura (Chattanooga Christian Academy) also coach basketball.

The next generation of Cottrell superstars appeared in 2012, when Zach began a run of four straight seasons of being named the Smoky Mountain Conference Player of the Year at Hayesville.

Before he went on to play at Appalachian, Zach scored a school record 1,950 points for the Yellowjackets.

That record fell in Hayesville’s last game, when Josh passed his older brother and now has 1,958 career points. Josh is averaging 27.1 points per game this season.

“I had mixed emotions about that,” said Michael about watching one son break the other son’s mark. “It was a big milestone for Josh and I felt great for him, but I feel for Zach because his record just got broken.

“Very proud of Josh, and it was deserving.”

“Zach and I have always been competitive, but it never really crossed my mind that I would break his record,” said Josh. “He had such a great career here that I never thought I could touch it, but he was the first one who called when I broke it.”

According to the N.C. High School Athletic Association record book, Michael (2,503) is WNC’s all-time scoring leader while his sons Josh (1,958, 5th) and Zack (1,950, 6th) are also in the top six.

With the playoffs beginning next week, Josh is 42 points away from becoming the fifth player from WNC to score 2,000 points in a career, joining his dad, McDowell High’s Jenis Grindstaff (2,102), Austin Nelson of North Henderson (2,075) and Jay Moody of Blue Ridge (2,071).

“Everyone in our family has been extremely successful, and not just in basketball,” said Josh. “They are all people I look up to and strive to be like, so to be mentioned with them in basketball is an honor.”

“You put all those (family) numbers) together and it’s amazing,” said Michael. “We love WNC, and we think it’s a great place to raise a family, and it’s been a blessing to be here and be part of this basketball community.”

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