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Court rules Cooksey can play for Merced

Brian Cooksey has been cleared to play basketball for Merced High.

Cooksey's long drawn out battle with the Sac-Joaquin Section was finally decided in a Merced courtroom.

The 6-foot-5 junior sat out the entire regular season because Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Pete Saco ruled Cooksey was ineligible after transferring from Atwater in October.

After Cooksey's appeal was denied by the California Interscholastic Federation appeals board, Cooksey and his family took the case to court.

A hearing was held in Merced on Feb. 13 and Merced Superior Court Judge Ronald Hansen ruled in favor of Cooksey on Monday, overturning Saco's decision.

Cooksey is eligible to play in tonight's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff opener against Nevada Union.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Cooksey said. "No one did anything wrong. That's all I can say.

"I'm extremely happy. I've had to sit out all year. I'm excited I get to play in the playoffs."

The controversy started when Cooksey moved with his family from Atwater to Merced in October and he transferred to Merced High.

The change of residence would normally allow an athlete to become immediately eligible at a new school.

However, Cooksey had played with the Merced All-Stars during the summer. The All-Stars are an AAU basketball team coached by Merced High coach Marcus Knott.

According to section rules, because Cooksey played AAU basketball for Knott, he would have to sit out a year if he transferred to Merced. The section views it as undue influence or recruiting.

"It's really too bad," Saco said. "The rule is you can't follow your club or AAU coach. The rule is there for a reason.

"We have 186 schools in the section. He could have gone to 184 others schools and been eligible. He was just not eligible at Merced."

Judge Hansen saw it differently.

It's the second time this year a judge has overturned a section ruling.

An Alameda judge ruled Placer football player Dalton Dyer was eligible and overturned three forfeits that allowed Placer to qualify for the playoffs in the fall.

The process has been tough on Cooksey.

"There were some nights that I cried at home," he said. "I kind of got angry. I just kept praying and praying.

"A lot of people think they know the reason I transferred. They've told me I transferred because I wanted to.

"I just wish everybody knew everything that went on. I still love everyone in Atwater. Coach (John) Kane and I are still close. We haven't talked since I moved, but I hope he comes to watch us play.

"There were reasons I left Atwater. We had to move and we couldn't find anything in Atwater."

Kane, who had to testify at the section hearing, doesn't feel Knott did anything wrong or recruited his former player.

Players from Atwater, Buhach Colony, Merced and Golden Valley have played on the Merced All-Stars.

"I hope Brian helps Merced do well in the playoffs and represents our league well," Kane said.

Cooksey definitely brings a missing element to Merced's roster. Merced has been without starting center Kenny Cooper (broken foot) almost the entire season.

Knott says he will play Cooksey tonight.

"It's good for him," Knott said. "He's finally caught a break after all of this. It would be tough on any kid.

"He's worked hard all year. He's been a good teammate. It's a nice reward for him. It's another body for us and it gives us more size."

As for Cooksey...

"I hope it's all done with," he said. "I get to be back on the court. I thank God for that."

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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