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  • Frederick Eberhart

London Cobbs: A Non-Knucklehead At Kent State Tuscarawas



Standing in the airport, London Cobbs spots a former teammate walking toward him, decked out in University of Minnesota basketball gear.


“London, what are you doing here?”


“Just doing my job,” London replies.


As he walks away, London can see the guy snickering with his friends. It hurts. “This isn’t where I’m supposed to be,” London thinks.


He makes a promise to himself. “When I work my way back I am going to go crazy.”


London then returns to his job - mopping the floors.

Love For Ball


London Cobbs grew up in Chicago with his mom, while his dad was mostly out of the picture.


“My dad was in and out of jail. So it was kind of like we lost touch for a few years,”


As a kid, London looked elsewhere for inspiration. “My motivation was my older cousin William Coffee, who was a high school basketball star. I remember watching his film, and I wanted to be just like my cousin,” London says.


London’s love for the game of basketball began early as William would bring him to the park to shoot around.


“I saw all these kids my age who were way better than me at the park. I took notes in my head like okay, he's talking, he's aggressive, he's doing this. Then I went to the gym. I focused. I got better. . . . In Chicago, there are only a few ways for you to go. You can either hoop, make music, or be a part of gang life.”


At a young age, London knew his way forward had to be through college hoops. To put him in the best position to reach his goals, London’s mom sent him to an all-boys school, known to be better than other public schools in the area.


Her decision and his hard work quickly paid off. He received straights As in school and led his middle school basketball squad to multiple championships. On the court, the future could not have been brighter for London.


Unfortunately, off the court and out of the classroom, young London had a knack for finding trouble.


“I’ve had a problem with authority all of my life. I think I look at anybody outside of my mom as like, I just didn't have to listen,” London says.


In addition, kids from the neighboring schools would “try to come and fight us.” London got involved in more than a few of those fights. He also ended up being robbed multiple times. For London to realize his dream of playing at the collegiate level, his mom knew things had to change.


“When I look back, I will admit I was definitely a knucklehead.”



High School Years


Then, out of nowhere, the unexpected happened.


By way of an anonymous donor, London received a full scholarship to the top-ranked Saint John's Northwestern Military Academy. Excited for him to change scenery and lock in on basketball, London’s mom jumped at the opportunity.


London earned All-Conference honors in his first 2 years at Saint John’s. By his sophomore year, he separated from the pack, leading his team with 17.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.


This new home, however, did not completely match London’s expectations. “I saw how Saint John’s could be a better environment for me. I was safe there. But I was still seeing drugs and everything, so I thought it couldn’t be much better than where I just came from,” London says.


So, every weekend London commuted between Chicago and Wisconsin, taking a two-hour train ride each way. Back and forth. Back and forth. Problems came with the “back.”


When home in Chicago, “I got involved in a bunch of stuff that I should not have been doing.” Sadly, even with the life he had always wanted on the horizon, London could not seem to get out of his own way. As he puts it, he continued to be a “knucklehead.”


London’s mother felt compelled to move him out - and on to Roosevelt High School in the Twin Cities. As a junior, London once again made All-Conference. Wherever he went, London’s game stayed consistent. This kid could play.


Then, another immature decision led to some very adult responsibilities.


“My senior year at Roosevelt, I ended up having my son, Malikai,” London says. “Man, I remember people telling me, ‘you're not going to play college ball. You're gonna have to drop out. . . . I was just like, no, I'm gonna prove everybody wrong.”


He stayed in school bringing Malikai to practices. And amazingly, London was selected to the All-City team and led Roosevelt to a 26-4 record, just one year after they had only won 7 games.


London’s incredible talent caught the eyes of many solid colleges, including JUCO North Dakota State College of Sciences.


Under head coach Stu Engen, NDSCS had accumulated a 217-45 record over 7 seasons, while sending 9 players to Division 1. The storied program holds 33 conference titles as well as 11 appearances in the NJCAA National Tournament. With this impressive resume, London knew he could play at NDSCS for a year or two and then move on up.


Despite the odds, and himself, London had made it.



Still Making Mistakes


London had his path paved. He just needed to keep improving his basketball skills and avoid any more mistakes.


That he did not do.


“I got comfortable. I had my little bit of fame in high school, and thought the rest would be handed to me. . . . I thought that the people starting over me were not better than me.”


Outbursts at practice, showing up late, not getting in the gym, and going to parties all hindered London from succeeding in North Dakota.


And then “poof” - game over. He had to leave NDSCS - without barely even touching the floor.


An excellent opportunity for the life he wanted gone. Wasted.


He then realized he need to commence a new mission in life: Knucklehead no-more.



New London


After moving his family to Gary, Indiana, London researched every possible school in the area that might take him. “I just asked for a chance to prove myself.”


He reached out to hundreds of coaches then waited.


Time passed and he received - nothing. Zero responses.


Finally one answered - only one. It was all he needed.


Coach Michael Harris from Wilbur Wright College offered him a full ride And this time he stayed hungry and focused.


“I had this teammate named Ricky Battles who averaged 35 points and would run miles before school, stretch, do yoga, and work out before games,” London says.


Instead of thinking he was better than Ricky, London started working harder. “That was the first time I saw somebody, and I was like, he is actually better than me for real. Like I got work to do.”


Then a seemingly new type of turmoil hit - one completely not of London’t doing. Coach Harris resigned mid-season.


But London, whose JUCO eligibility would soon expire, had been banking on Coach Harris to help with his future. He now had no advocate to assist him finding a 4-year school. London had improved his behavior, bettered his mentality and strengthened his work ethic. Yet he had no place to play in a few short months.


What to do?


First, he finished the season impressively scoring 15.8 points per game to go with 5.3 rebounds.


Then London reached out to friend who played for Mayville State and learned they might have open spots.


“I went out to North Dakota there to sit down with the Mayville State head coach. But, I could tell something was off right away because the first question he asked me was about my tattoos,” London says.


Instead of inquiring about his journey, his character, or his basketball background, the coach showed more concern with prior decisions. London was deemed not a good match.


London had matured and stopped getting in his own way. So when can a non-knucklehead catch a break?


No time soon.


After being turned down at Mayville State, London had another surprise on the way. “After that, I found out that Malikai’s mom and I were expecting my daughter, named Londyn Cobbs Jr.”


With two children, it might have seemed logical for London to hang ‘em up. Yet, he stayed persistent.


“Somebody's got to still want me. Some coach out there. I'm good enough to play somewhere. I got to be.”


London ended up going back to Minneapolis - where he worked at a food truck. Not exactly the goal.


After taking community college classes, London received admission to D2 Concordia St. Paul - as a student only. “I was happy. From there, I knew I could make the team,” London thought to himself. Every day, London grinded in the gym with the rest of the team, showcasing his skills.


One day, London spotted the head coach watching from above the court. He went up to chat with him.


“I said, ‘Hey, what's up, coach.’ He didn't even look at me and just kept texting. I repeated, ‘Hey, can I talk to you for a second?’” Finally, the coach answered. “Sure London, let’s go talk in my office,” he said.


“Okay, this is good. He knows my name,” London thought.


As soon as they sat down, London began his pitch. “I don't care if I have to start from the bottom. I don't even have to get a uniform. I just want to be a part of the program. I'll be the waterboy, anything. Please.”


The coach looked London dead in the eyes and said - there will never be a place for you in our program.


London became desperate, begging on his knees for a chance.


“That was the first time I’ve ever cried in front of a coach,”


And the coach said . . . no.


Why?


The head coach at Concordia was best friends with an assistant coach from NDSCS. Sadly, London could not outrun his old mistakes. Although he was trying to do his best to improve as a person and a player, his past continued to set him back.


Once a knucklehead always a knucklehead. Right?



The Road to Kent


Despite his determination to play basketball, London had to start working a 9-5 janitorial job at the airport. Deep down, he knew this was not where he was supposed to be. The sharp drop-off from college basketball player to janitor took a massive toll on him.


While cleaning the bathrooms, mopping the floors, and taking out the trash, London fell into despair. He imagined it could not get much worse.


Somehow, it did.


He lost his job.


At this point, he could only take so much. Ready to move on, London planned to head back to Chicago and settle down. It’s over.


But it wasn’t.


London’s friend Xavier pulled him aside. “I remember Xavier telling me, ‘No, bro, don't go back to Chicago. If you go back there, you already know what will happen.’”


In a last-ditch effort, Xavier mentioned a coach that might be able to help. Feeling hopeless and dejected, London nevertheless reached out to Kent State Tuscarawas head basketball coach Richard Tharp, typing an email he has sent to countless coaches.


London still can not believe what happened next.


Coach Tharp responded in less than a day, setting up a call. London knew this was his last chance at accomplishing his goals.


Coach Tharp remembers this call well. “I heard in his voice the desire for a chance. He was very upfront, truthful, and vulnerable with me about his story. When a young man like London comes along and you can truly gain the sense that he has matured, grown, and is ready to take on the challenges of achieving his dream, then it is easy to take him in.”


Finally, a coach who saw through what many others did not. London immediately accepted an offer at Kent State Tuscarawas, and the rest is history.


“This school saved my life,” London says. “Kent is full of really genuine people that actually want to see you thrive in their environment. My whole life I just wanted to get somewhere and be accepted and celebrated. And it's like, I got it here,” London says.


In his first two seasons, London averaged 13.4 and 14.9 points respectively. In 2022, he earned USCAA Second-Team All-American honors. A much more mature London credits a lot of his success to the newfound family he has at Kent.


“My teammates, man, we are like real-life brothers now. I'm older than all of them, so all of them are little brothers to me,” London joked.


Coach Tharp says that “London is a very supportive and encouraging teammate. Because he is so vocal and draws attention from his ability to play, I believe he understands how to lead by example.”


Fellow rising senior guard, JaJuantae Young, agrees with Tharp. “London and I are always on the same page. If we aren’t one day, London will get my mind back on the right track. Off the court, he is the same. London is someone who is always there for me whenever I am going through things. He understands me, and I respect him a lot for that.”


Away from basketball, London has his own clothing brand called “The Good Friends.” He also enjoys making Tik-Toks with his daughter, although he swears he can’t dance.


His son is already following in his dad’s footsteps “His form is crazy. I can see that he is going to be ten times better than me. Hopefully, he is too, because I need a yacht,” London laughs.


After a first-round exit in the USCAA National Tournament this past year, London is excited to take the next step this season before graduating in December with his Bachelor of Science in Integrated Studies.


Post-grad, London has even bigger goals in mind. “I want to play overseas after this. I feel like I'm good enough to play somewhere. Somebody just needs to give me a chance.”


Frankly, London is an anomaly. Most would have given up much sooner. His path was never perfect. He would tell you himself that he made way too many mistakes along the way.


Yet, he’s matured. He has proven both to himself and to others that he is a knucklehead no more.


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