Stony Brook head coach Nick Macarchuk compared Cook to a few other New York City greats, Kenny Anderson and Stephon Marbury, adding that the St. John's star had an edge over them in at least some aspects, which brought a smile to Cook's face and a humble sound bite.
A McDonald's All-American, Cook came out of Christ the King, following in the footsteps of Erick Barkley, who preceded him at the Middle Village high school and at St. John's. Barkley, a first-round draft selection of the Portland TrailBlazers after his sophomore season, left big shoes for Cook to fill and Cook certainly seems up to the challenge.
Everyone knew Cook would be good coming out of high school. His presence on Christ the King all but assured the Royals a shot at the city title. CK head coach Bob Oliva said Cook was the best passing high school point guard he had ever seen, which included a few well-known players such as Khalid Reeves, Derek Phelps and Barkley, all of whom played for Oliva.
As a senior, he was part of what has become known as the "Holy Trinity," a trio of point guards out of New York City along with Taliek Brown and Andre Barrett, both of whom are also playing in the Big East with Connecticut and Seton Hall, respectively.
But his senior year at Christ the King was not nearly as good as Cook would have liked, with the Royals being eliminated from the city playoffs in the quarterfinals after Cook was suspended for two games for bumping an official in an upset loss to Holy Cross.
I saw Cook a number of times while he was at Christ the King and there was no doubt in my mind that he was the goods, although I honestly did not think he would dominate in the collegiate ranks as much as he has in his short time there. I saw a player who physically dominated those who guarded him and who had the ability to put up some big numbers. But I did not see the same player who wears the red and white of the Red Storm.
Lord knows there is still a long way for the point guard to go until he reaches legendary stature. But judging by the performances he's put up in just three games as a college player, Cook is blazing a trail all his own.
Against two ranked teams in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, which opened the season for the Red Storm, Cook was just short of awesome. Playing on a team with only three returning players, he was certainly the catalyst, propelling the Johnnies to an upset win over Kentucky and a more than competitive outing in a loss to No. 4 Kansas.
I only got to see Cook once as a Red Storm member before he took the court against the Wildcats, against Double Pump in an exhibition. In that game he displayed his ability to hit the three-point shot as well as his blazing speed and quick hands on defense. But that was against a traveling team of former college stars, not a team of hungry young peers.
I was all but convinced that the young St. John's team, consisting of nine new players, would be hard-pressed to beat a Kentucky team ranked in the top 25. And St. John's trailed for most of the game, despite 18 points and five assists by Cook.
But it was Cook who turned the tide. Down by two in the final seconds Cook read the Kentucky defense and drew up a play during a timeout that had forward Anthony Glover flashing under the basket. Cook fed him the ball and Glover converted, getting fouled in the process. Glover's free throw gave St. John's a 62-61 win.
Against Kansas the following night Cook came down to Earth a bit, settling for 4-of-16 from beyond the arc, but he dished out six assists and had six steals. Cook missed a three that would have put St. John's ahead down the stretch, as the Red Storm went on to lose 82-74.
In those first two games Cook was 12-for-35 from the field.
His outside shot has long been a question, something Jarvis shook off after Cook was 1-for-7 from three against Stony Brook. The shot will come, Jarvis said.
It should come, but thanks to the development of fellow freshman Willie Shaw and others, Cook will probably not have to do most of the scoring this season. He finished with just eight against Stony Brook, taking a season-low nine shots from the field.
Whether or not Cook ever develops a consistent outside shot, St. John's will reap the rewards of his crisp passing. He has the ability to make great no-look passes appear simple, especially when streaking to the hole.
Teammate Reggie Jessie, who played most of his life with Cook's predecessor Barkley, said Cook makes passes Barkley never did. Though he didn't say the younger player was better, he all but did.
Cook will probably spend the rest of his days at St. John's being compared to Barkley, but it is a comparison he has never shied away from and one that is certainly a compliment. But if he keeps playing this way and improving, Cook may well escape that shadow faster than anyone would have envisioned.
©2000 Community News Group
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