By Austin Chappell
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Michael Cobbins’ ascension from a long, lanky high school standout in Amarillo, Texas, to Oklahoma State’s inside enforcer and vocal leader has seen its fair share of ups and downs.
He’s been a part of squads ranked as high as No. 5 in the country, logged 35 minutes in the Cowboys’ overtime victory over second-ranked Kansas in 2013 and played on multiple NCAA Tournament teams.
At the same time, he’s been on OSU teams that dwelled toward the bottom of the Big 12 standings, struggled with drama in the locker room and even suffered through a seven-game losing streak.
Despite the wide range of emotions accumulated over that stretch, Cobbins has come to know the Oklahoma State program, coaches and philosophy more than most associated with team, making him a fan favorite and leader going into his senior season.
“I’ve had memories here in Stillwater that will literally last a lifetime,” Cobbins said. “It’s been a journey and an experience that will shape me for the rest of my life. This place is my home.”
After redshirting during his first year on campus, Cobbins’ presence on Oklahoma State’s exploded, as he appeared in all 33 games of the 2011-12 season. He chipped in 15 multiple-block games, a top-five rebounding mark in conference play and several double-figure scoring performances, proving his athletic ability and prowess originally recognized during his high school career.
Cobbins also kicked off the start of his career by forming close connections with other key members of his freshman class, as evidenced by a YouTube video created with former Cowboys Markel Brown and Brian Williams. In the video, the three newcomers acted out an MTV Cribs-like presentation of Oklahoma State’s state-of-the-art locker room. Despite Brown’s departure for the NBA, Cobbins said the friendships gained from his freshman class will become lifetime memories.
“When you’re out on the court with Markel, and even when you’re on the bench, you play with a completely different drive,” Cobbins said. “I loved whenever Markel would get a dunk because it would make me celebrate like I just had a dunk. That’s stuff that you don’t ever forget.”
Cobbins attributed that same emotion to former Cowboy and current Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who played with Cobbins for both seasons of his dynamic college career.
“It was a different type of energy with Marcus and Markel, especially with the extreme energy and extreme amount of heart they both gave,” Cobbins said. “When you played with them, you could actually feel the energy coming off of them, as weird as that sounds, but when the team gets like that, we’re unstoppable.”
“Unstoppable” could be considered as an ideal description of the beginning of Oklahoma State’s 2013-14 season, as the Cowboys entered the year as the No. 8 team in the country and reeled off seven-consecutive wins to begin the year.
But during a game against Robert Morris late in the team’s non-conference schedule, Cobbins suffered a season-ending injury on a freak inbounds play, a moment he describes as the lowest of his career so far.
“The first thing that went through my mind was disappointment,” Cobbins said. “My family was in the crowd that night, so I felt like I had let them down in some ways.”
“After that, there was the anger and questioning. My mind was just all over the place as soon as it happened, and I just hated being injured and missing out on playing ball.”
Oklahoma State ended up winning that game by a convincing 26-point margin, but the score didn’t even begin to reflect the future struggles involved with losing Cobbins.
The Cowboys responded by posting a win over West Virginia, but eventually began a seven-game slide during the most critical stretch of the team’s conference slate. And with five of those defeats coming by a gut-wrenching six points or less, the pain of Cobbins’ injury not only deepened within himself, but with the team as whole.
After seeking motivation from friends and family, Cobbins and the Oklahoma State coaching staff developed the idea of using him, ironically, as the team’s primary motivator.
So, Cobbins became the team cheerleader. During practice, he made himself a constant presence by encouraging teammates and doing his best to physically help out with drills and workouts. Cobbins was even featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter for his “Dunk Face,” displayed after one of Williams’ highlight plays last season.
Despite not playing a single minute over the remainder of the season, Cobbins was able to take his force previously held in the paint and take it to the bench, where he served as the primary source of encouragement, even with teammates who weren’t in the game.
“I felt like I was definitely making a contribution, especially with those guys who were on the bench with me,” Cobbins said. “I knew that there would be a time and chance for them to get in, and I knew they would have to bring it once they got in.”
After the team’s seven-game losing streak, the Cowboys responded with a four-game stretch of victories in conference play, highlighted by a 72-65 upset over fifth-ranked Kansas in Stillwater. The contributions stemming from Cobbins’ enthusiasm became visible to the team, the Oklahoma State fan base, and most importantly, himself.
Now, heading into his senior season, Cobbins is healthy, revitalized and ready to add on to his motivational contributions with success on the court. With seven members gone from the 2013-14 squad, Cobbins also has the chance to revive the chemistry created with former teammates and help it thrive under the Cowboys’ group of incoming talent.
“Everybody’s got to be on the same page and make sure they’re doing the same thing, and the guys already knows that,” Cobbins said. “This might be one of the most close-knit teams I’ve ever been on since I’ve been here, which is surprising considering the number of new guys we have.”
“It’s basically a whole new change with the team, but I really like this team, and I like what we can do.”