The tone had changed dramatically concerning St. Johns point guard Omar Cooks decision to enter the NBA draft in the weeks leading up to the June 27 event held at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Where pessimism and skepticism had once reigned regarding the former Christ the King stars decision, there was now overflowing optimism and the feeling that despite all the early negative reaction, Cook was a solid first round selection.
A series of solid workouts for NBA teams, as well as a standout performance at a critical pre-draft camp had Cook cracking the top 15 on some experts mock drafts. The more you read and the more you heard made it seem a veritable lock that Cooks gamble of leaving college after just one season would pay off handsomely.
Then came draft day and the long, seemingly eternal, wait to hear Cooks name finally called. One by one draft picks came and went without so much as a hint of the Brooklyn natives name being called.
Three other point guards, Raul Lopez from Spain, Brooklyn native Jamaal Tinsley and Tony Parker from France, all went ahead of Cook, something that appeared an impossibility just days before. All went in the latter part of the first round, with Tinsley going at No. 27 to Vancouver and Parker going to San Antonio with the No. 28 pick, the two final selections in the first round.
Though Cook was eventually selected No. 32 overall by the Orlando Magic only to be traded later that night to the Denver Nuggets as the third pick in the second round, the subtle difference is everything. There will be no guaranteed three-year contract, no roster spot he is expected to fill and the very real possibility that Cook might not even get to play in the NBA next season.
As it stands, it seems Cooks gamble may have backfired.
But this is what most of the experts predicted when rumbling about Cooks intentions to enter the draft first surfaced about two weeks after St. Johns played its last game of a disastrous 2000-2001 season.
The Red Storm finished 14-15 last year, failing to make the postseason for the first time in four years, a period that included three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, as well as an Elite Eight appearance two seasons ago.
This year was supposed to be a year of transition, when all of the players from those past teams sans Reggie Jessie and Donald Emanuel gave way to a crop of talented recruits, led by Cook, the All-American high school point guard.
And as promising as things seemed early, including a season-opening win over powerhouse Kentucky, things gradually fell apart for St. Johns. Cooks early season hot shooting cooled and the development of the younger players slowed as the Red Storm suffered their first losing season under head coach Mike Jarvis, the first losing season in his collegiate basketball career.
When St. Johns lost to Seton Hall in the first round of the Big East Tournament, a championship the team won just a year before, Cook said he had every intention of returning to St. Johns for his sophomore year. Then, a few weeks later, he shocked the New York sports scene by announcing his intention to enter the NBA Draft.
Around this time almost every expert I spoke with said that Cook needed another year in the college ranks to fine-tune his game, specifically his perimeter shooting. Cook shot just 30.9 percent from three-point range, 36 percent from the field overall.
One NBA scout came right out and said that Cook should stay in school, while others predicted him to be a late first round, early second round selection.
Even Jarvis, who handed his team over to Cook, publicly said that Cook would best be served by another season at St. Johns. For a while it seemed that Cook would listen to the chorus of those warning him away from coming out, but, alas, he did not.
Cook, apparently, was banking on his ability as a floor general, his tremendous physique and an upside seemingly without end to carry him over the negatives. He was second in the nation in assists, averaging 8.7 per game, was fearless when it came crunch time and was a natural leader on the floor.
But Cook also showed his immaturity at times by not masking his frustration with teammates and he struggled at times against the zone defense, something outlawed in the NBA until next season.
Despite all the disappointment Cook must have been feeling draft day, he has come out and said that he is more determined than ever to work hard and prove to himself and the rest in the world that every team that passed on him made a mistake.
And, having seen Cook up close for the past few years, having seen his desire to win, I have little doubt that he will earn his way onto the Nuggets this year and will sooner or later make an impact on the pro game.
Apparently, the Nuggets feel that way too. The team from Denver gave up a first-round pick to acquire Cook, a move that could give the 19-year-old some solace. He may not have been taken in the first round and may not reap the benefits of such a selection, but at least the Denver brain trust thought it a fair deal to give away a future first round pick for his services.
And that may at least soothe some stinging wounds.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2001 Community News Group
By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:
You agree that you, and not TimesLedger.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to TimesLedger.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.