Women's basketball recruiting: From bullied to Louisville commit, Olivia Cochran keeps going

Olivia Cochran, the No. 18 prospect in the espnW Hoopgurlz Class of 2020, committed to Louisville. Courtesy of Madison Hayes

Middle school was a lonely place for Olivia Cochran. She was bullied repeatedly, often because of her size.

"I had self-esteem problems," said Cochran, a 6-foot-1 senior forward at Carver (Columbus, Georgia). "I didn't have confidence like everyone else. Sometimes, I still don't.

"When you're bigger than everyone else -- even the teachers ... I was fat and stuff. I was anti-social. I used to get picked on a lot."

Basketball became her salvation, and one of her biggest mentors has been Ebone Cutts, the coach at Rothschild Middle School (Columbus, Georgia).

Cochran was 6 feet, 220 pounds when they met, and Cutts knew priority No. 1 was to get her in shape.

During practices, Cutts placed large trash cans at all four corners of the gym, just in case Cochran got sick.

"Nobody used those trash bags more than Olivia," Cutts said. "She used them quite a bit the first couple of months."

Still, when the whistle blew, Cochran ran ... and ran ... and ran some more.

And she did it willingly.

"She saw something in me," Cochran said of Cutts. "She saw something that I didn't see."

These days, anybody who watches the 17-year-old Cochran can see her talent. At a slimmed-down 184 pounds, she is the No. 18 player in the espnW Recruiting Rankings for the Class of 2020, and she recently committed to the University of Louisville.

Cochran won a state title in March and in June represented the United States in the U18 3x3 World Cup in Mongolia, earning a gold medal and MVP honors.

Carver coach Anson Hundley calls Cochran a "walking double-team" because of all the defensive attention she attracts.

Despite all the defenses she faces, Cochran never backs down.

"She tries to get us to schedule as many hard teams as possible," Hundley said. "She wants to be the best and play against the best."

Family matters

Cochran comes from two athletic parents. Her father is Antonio Cochran, who was the Seattle Seahawks' fourth-round pick in 1999, playing 85 NFL games as a 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive end.

Her mother is Tara Williams, a second-team All-SEC guard at Auburn in 1997. Listed at 5-foot-11, she went on to play two years in the WNBA.

But after Cochran and Williams split up, Olivia was raised for a while by her maternal aunt, Debra Carter.

Cochran, who now lives with her mom and Carter, had started playing basketball recreationally in the fifth grade at her uncle's urging. That summer, while Carter worked, Cochran would go to the Boys and Girls Club on the south side of Columbus, and she soon attracted attention.

"I still think I'm underrated. I haven't woken people up yet. ... I need to prove people wrong. I won't stop until I'm the best." Olivia Cochran

"I got a call at work from a lady who said, 'Auntie Debby, I want to start training Olivia," Carter recalled of her first conversation with Cutts. "It shocked me, but, before I gave my blessing, I had to meet (Cutts).

"When I went to the gym, I said, 'This ain't gonna work.' Olivia couldn't even run to half court. She was so lazy. ... But (Cutts) kept pushing her. She told Olivia, 'One day, everybody is going to want to be your friend. You won't be bullied ever again.' And everything (Cutts) said came to life."

Cutts, who has been coaching for 15 years, deflects any credit.

"It's easy to coach a kid who has as much drive as Olivia does," Cutts said. "By the seventh grade, she had the mindset to go get it, and God saw fit for me to be the one to push her."

One year later, Alabama gave Cochran her first college scholarship offer, and the spotlight only got brighter from there.

Leaving a legacy

Some experts have said Cochran is the best high school women's basketball prospect to come out of Georgia since Maya Moore graduated from Collins (Suwanee) in 2007, and there may be something to that.

In March, Cochran led Carver to the first girls' basketball state title in school history. She averaged 27 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks for the season, earning Class 4A All-State honors for the second straight season.

She also posted 15 points and 11 rebounds in the state final, a 56-44 win over 2018 champ Spalding (Griffin). Carver finished the season with a 32-0 record.

Cochran had started high school at Hardaway (Columbus) but left there after her freshman year because she didn't think the players on the team took basketball seriously enough.

She found the commitment she was looking for at Carver, and she also began playing with Finest Basketball Club, an AAU squad.

With FBC, Cochran won two national championships this summer, taking the Under Armour title in Atlanta in July and winning the Prime Event in Dallas in August.

"What makes Olivia really good is how she perseveres," FBC coach Alfred Motton said. "She's a power player who in college will eventually be able to play small forward as she continues to add to her perimeter game.

"She comes from a pedigree of professional athletes (her parents). She has lost weight. ... She has willed her way to the top."

Cochran said she was often mobbed by fans in Mongolia, who all wanted to take photos with her.

Closer to home, the same people who used to bully Cochran now cheer for her at Carver games.

"They are trying to be my friends now because I'm almost famous," Cochran said. "I don't hold grudges. You have to move on."

As gracious as Cochran is, however, she still fixates on players ranked higher than her.

Cochran's ESPN ranking has improved in recent months, from 37 to 21 to 18, but she's not satisfied.

"I still think I'm underrated," she said. "I haven't woken people up yet.

"I need to prove people wrong. I won't stop until I'm the best."