Notre Dame junior one of top players in BlueCross Basketball State Championships

Staff photo / Notre Dame's Cole McCormick (3) is fouled by Arts & Sciences' Justin Brown during a January 2021 game at Notre Dame's Phifer Gymnasium.
Staff photo / Notre Dame's Cole McCormick (3) is fouled by Arts & Sciences' Justin Brown during a January 2021 game at Notre Dame's Phifer Gymnasium.

Notre Dame High School junior Cole McCormick spends most of his days eating, breathing and living basketball.

From 6 a.m. workouts before classes begin to playing for an AAU team founded by Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts — the six-time MLB All-Star was also a prep basketball standout at Nashville's Overton a little more than a decade ago — McCormick's dedication to his craft has paid major dividends for the Fighting Irish this winter.

For the first time in 20 years, the Notre Dame boys are just two wins from a TSSAA state title.

The Irish (22-9) will face Bell Buckle's Webb School (22-11) in the BlueCross Basketball State Championships' Division II-A semifinals at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. Clarksville Academy (26-8) faces Goodpasture (30-2) in the other semifinal at 6 p.m., with the title game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

"Growing up, I played all the sports," McCormick said. "In middle school, I lost the love of the other sports and basketball stuck with me. Throughout elementary and middle school, I was bigger than everybody. Then I got to high school and was playing against basically adults as a freshman.

"There were so many things I needed to work on — my body and basketball skills. I became very basketball- and workout-focused. Since then, my goal has been to play basketball as far as I can."

The 6-foot-5 McCormick has proven versatile, efficient and highly effective for the Irish, with per-game averages of 18.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.7 block that are all team bests. So are his shooting averages of 71% on free throws, 64.7% from 2-point range and 42% from 3-point range.

In Notre Dame's 59-51 home win in a state quarterfinal against Davidson Academy last Saturday, McCormick scored 19 first-half points and made five 3-pointers.

Irish coach Jonathan Adams spoke of the desire to have the best players from a given classification taking part at state, noting that in DII-A, "we feel like we do.

"You have Isaiah West over at Goodpasture, who is going to play at Vanderbilt," Adams added. "Then there is Eddie Ricks III at Clarksville Academy, who is going to Morehead State. Then we have Cole. We are blessed to have one of the best players in the state."

McCormick will take on a tough defensive assignment Thursday when guarding Webb's Stephen Olowoniyi, who stands 6-8 and has averaged 13.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game this season.

Notre Dame has been one of the surprise teams during the second half of the season. After a 72-70 loss at Chattanooga Christian on Jan. 13, the Irish were 10-8.

A collective team effort has turned things around as senior starters DJ Brown (9.0 points per game), Ben Houston and Kenny Hammond have stepped up, along with breakout sophomore Gaas Herman, who averages double figures in points and 1.3 steals per game.

"We continue to have different guys step in this memorable run we are on," Adams said. "We have also stepped up our defense, which has really been the key. I tell our guys all the time: You aren't going to stop guys from scoring. You just want to make it as tough as possible."

Opponents have scored an average of just 40 points per game against the Irish over the past 13 games, and continuing that streak might push them into new territory.

This is Notre Dame's fifth berth in the state semifinals, with the program's first trip in 1973. The Irish also were among the final four teams in 1999, 2002 and 2003, but they're still seeking a first appearance in the title game.

McCormick's birthday is Thursday, and breaking through would obviously make it a happy one.

"This is an amazing experience," McCormick said. "Playing in the state tournament is the only place I would want to be on my birthday. I love basketball and this is the greatest gift to play on this stage. That's what I want to do with my life. Hopefully I will get some extra superpowers or something on my birthday maybe."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at

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