Today’s Profile is by Rowan Shiell
Quinn Cook is Duke’s lone Senior, one of two players remaining from the #2 ranked recruiting class of 2011. There were five recruits in that class: Austin Rivers, Marshall Plumlee, Michael Gibinije, Alex Murphy and Cook.
During their time at Duke, the Blue Devils had two first round exits, once in their Freshman season when they lost to Lehigh, and another loss to Mercer in what would have been their Junior year. The furthest they have been in the NCAA tournament is the Elite Eight. Prior to their arrival, Duke won three straight ACC championship titles.
Now Alex Murphy and Gibinije have transferred. Austin Rivers played a season before leaving for the NBA. Marshall Plumlee is still around but the jury is still out on him. He initially Red Shirted and has not played much to date, so no one has a clear idea of what he is capable of on the court.
However, with Cook, no one is prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he had decided to transfer for his Senior season, he would probably have left to a collective sigh of relief.
Last season was meant to be Cook’s coming out party. He had previously played in the shadows of Rivers, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee. He even made a heartfelt video about wanting to be a leader after having spent the summer in Durham with his teammates.
Then the season started, and Coach Krzyzewski didn’t immediately anoint Cook his undisputed leader. In fact, he had based his team around top ranked freshman, Jabari Parker and Red Shirt Sophomore, Rodney Hood, who was surprisingly named as a Captain, over Cook.
There were rumours the previous season about Hood being the best player in practice, and Jabari Parker, who was basically on a season’s lease, was a projected NBA draft pick.
These two were exceptional players, however, knowing that the Point Guard is the most important position in college basketball, you would have thought that Cook, who was also the top returning scorer, would have been given some elevation rather than just being seen as an afterthought at the season opening press conference.
“It’s not like one guy is trying to beat out one guy — basically, you’re trying to blend,” Krzyzewski said. “The two guys you initially want to blend with are Rodney and Jabari because they’re two very talented and versatile players. So that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
The plan to blend with these two exceptional players looked promising in the first game of the season as Duke had four 20-point scorers in a game, for the first time in school history, as they took Davidson down, 117-77. Sophomore, Rasheed Sulaimon, who started as a Freshman but was now coming off the bench, had 20. Parker and Hood both scored 22. Cook looked as if he had taken that extra step to elite level with 20 points and eight assists.
However, the next game gave a clearer picture of the season to come. Duke ranked #4 in the preseason played #5 ranked Kansas and their elite recruits of Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. Parker was exceptional again, on one side of the court, where he scored 27 points but defensively he was a sieve. His assignments Perry Ellis, scored 24 points and Wiggins scored 22 points to pace Kansas, as they ran away with the victory in the second half, 94-83. Hood had 11 points.
Cook scored 10 points and dished out 4 assists in 36 minutes. Even though Coach K hadn’t anointed Cook a leader, clearly he was prepared to play him big minutes. Cook’s scoring slump wasn’t the cause of the loss, the Jayhawks had outrebounded the Blue Devils 39-24.
Duke had set out to reprise USA Basketball’s model of playing their best five players, but that does not work in college basketball, especially if the designated “Bigs” can’t defend the opposing Frontcourt. A similar thing happened in loses to Arizona, Clemson, and at Syracuse (the return game at Cameron was a gift from first year ACC coach, Jim Boeheim).
Every player had some fault or the other, but their positives may have overshadowed their shortcomings, except for Cook. He may not have been named a Captain, but he was held accountable for the shortcomings of the team. He wasn’t a scapegoat.
Kenny Smith recently said “The success of a Point Guard will come from the fact that he understands how to play with people and still be an individual.” Cook struggled with this balance immensely.
Smith also said that controlling the tempo of the game was just as important as rebounding, defending, assisting and scoring, for a point guard. When the game got tough, Cook would try to shoot his way out instead of trying to get players like sharp shooter, Andre Dawkins, involved, or finding the “hot hand.”
The Clemson game in January was a prime example. They out rebounded Duke 48-30. The three frontcourt players for Clemson, finished with “double-doubles” (scoring and rebounding). Hood had 20 points but barely registered any other statistic in 30 minutes of play. Parker had 15 and seven rebounds.
Cook played 40 minutes and finished with seven points and eight assists. He was 3-of-14 from the field, as Duke lost by 13. The game got away in the second half, once again.
That started a downward spiral for Cook who always seems to slump in January. That shooting slump eventually got him consigned to the Bench. However, the 6’2” guard responded positively, in the first game from the Bench, scoring 21 points in a victory over Boston College.
Duke would go on to win seven of their next eleven games but it wouldn’t get any better for Cook, until he scored 23 against Mercer, in a valiant losing effort, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
By that time there were rumblings of better days to come because there was a package deal that would address all of Duke’s problems. Rebounding and game control goes with perimeter defense, in one swoop. This package deal signalled Cook was once again the outsider, only he is now a Senior.
Back in November, Jahil Okafor, the top recruit in the class of 2014, committed to Duke with his good friend Tyus Jones, a Point Guard who many see as the saviour to Duke’s Backcourt issues. Justice Winslow would eventually commit and Grayson Allen, who had already committed months before, made this recruiting class one of the best of the 2014.
Before the “one-and-done” rule, most Top 10 ranked kids had a very good chance of making an NBA team, somewhere down the line. Now if they are Sophomores, it is considered that something went wrong. Hence, it would be to their advantage to choose a school where they can show case their talents, and not have to wait behind upperclassmen for their turn on the court. If Tyus Jones, arguably the top Point Guard in his class, chose Duke, it is beyond imagination that he was going to fight for playing time.
Then there is the other aspect to this type of the deal. The school that a player picks will have do everything it possible, to make sure that the said player meets or exceeds expectations. If players that are expected to spend a year in college are around for much longer, then it only hurts future recruiting as other schools may use this against them.
This could be the real reason that Jones recently went on record to say he does not see Cook as a rival. If certain promises were made to him before he committed, then he would more than likely see Cook as someone who can help him that than deter him.
“We’re both trying to play in the backcourt at the same time and with each other we feel … we both bring different dynamics to the table that can help our team be good,” Jones said, as reported by Yahoo. “We’re looking at it as a positive rather than a negative. It’s a positive to have two point guards on the floor, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Ryan Harrow had a tough time at Kentucky before he transferred to Georgia State, where he had his best season, scoring 17 points a game and dishing out 4.2 assists. Thus, helping Georgia State win the Sun Belt title. He also played with another capable Point Guard, Devonte White.
Quinn Cook could have taken a similar option, as Harrow, by transferring to another school with less pressure, but he chose to stay. That says that he wants to be at Duke, which makes them better. Cook has never really had any competition, the last two seasons. Tyler Thornton was more of a running mate than a rival. Maybe this is what Cook Needs to keep him sharp throughout the whole season.
“I never looked at it as competition,” Cook said. “I get it – I get the Tweets, the Instagram posts. ‘Jones coming next year’ ‘Cook to the bench.’ That obviously motivates me, but I don’t put that against Tyus. Tyus isn’t saying that.”
Playing two point guards at the same time isn’t a bad thing. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright just led UConn to a Championship. Coach Krzyzewski played Chris Duhon and Jason Williams together, during the 2001 Championship, and John Scheyer and Nolan Smith split the duties in the last Championship.
It is fascinating how much Quinn Cook’s time at Duke mirrors Smith’s. The exception is the latter is a Champion who made that extra step in his Junior season and will always be cherished by the fan base. Cook has yet to make that step but his time isn’t done yet. No one is more appreciative of an extra year than the Senior.
“I’m glad that college is four years,” He said. “I’ve got one more crack at it, and I want to make the best of it. I’ve just had this fuel in my mind and in my body all summer to leave as a winner.”
The greatest sports heroes aren’t those that had immediate success, but the ones that eventually overcame their inner demons to succeed.