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Fighting for the right to stay in the NBA

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Both are fiery competitors, both are fighting for their NBA lives and when they met up in an NBA summer league game in Salt Lake City late last month, the sparks flew between former Christ the King and St. John’s point guards Erick Barkley and Omar Cook.

While they embraced after the game, things got quite heated between the two friends and Brooklynites during the first half of the game between Barkley’s Portland Trail Blazers and Cook’s Denver Nuggets.

Barkley scorched Cook, scoring 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field, mostly long-range jumpers while dishing out five assists in 32 minutes. Cook struggled, scoring his only points on two free throws while shooting 0-for-9 from the field.

Cook tried to step up his defense on Barkley, who got off to a hot start and, after Barkley protested, Cook stayed in his face. The referee called them both for technical fouls, but the confrontation didn’t stop there. Barkley chased after Cook at halftime and grabbed him before Portland coach Maurice Cheeks could step between them.

“That was just a neighborhood thing,” Barkley told the Oregonian. “It was just a pride thing on the court. That’s how I was brought up, not to take anything from anyone.”

Barkley, who was discouraged last year after playing just 38 minutes in eight games, had an impressive summer campaign, averaging 18 points, 6.7 assists and shooting 49.3 percent from the field before pulling a groin against Houston.

It appears that Barkley, who was selected by the Trail Blazers with the 28th overall pick in the 2000 Draft after leaving St. John’s following his sophomore season, is in line to be the Trail Blazers’ back-up point guard behind Damon Stoudamire after Portland traded former Knicks point guards Rod Strickland and Greg Anthony.

Cook, meanwhile, is trying to make the Nuggets’ roster after being picked in the second round of the 2001 Draft by the Orlando Magic, who traded his rights to Denver. As a second-round pick, Cook does not have a guaranteed contract.

The results at the Rocky Mountain Revue were somewhat mixed for the 19-year-old who left St. John’s after his freshman year. He was among one of the league leaders in assists with 6.5 and dished out a Revue-best 13 assists in the Nuggets’ 99-95 summer-league finale win over Memphis after just two assists and a league-worst 10 turnovers the day before. He also averaged 1.7 steals per game.

But Cook, who reportedly said he wanted to be the best passer on Denver since John Elway, continued to struggle from the field as he shot just 20 percent and averaged 4.2 points.

Before scoring a high of seven points against Memphis, Cook missed 30-of-36 field goal attempts. Cook shot just 36 percent in his one season at St. John’s.

“It was up and down,” Cook told the Denver Post about his performance. “I had my good games and I had my bad games. But it was a great learning process and I got used to the rules. I just played. I know what I have to go home and work on.”

The most impressive summer performance came from another former Christ the King guard, as Craig “Speedy” Claxton showed no ill effects from the torn left anterior cruciate ligament that sidelined him for the entire 2000-01 season as he chalked up a league-high six assists per game for the Philadelphia 76ers at the Shaw’s Pro Summer League in Boston last month.

The former Hofstra star, who was drafted by Philadelphia with the 20th pick overall in the 2000 Draft, didn’t appear to have lost a step in his team’s five games in Boston. He exploded to the basket in the 76ers 86-75 Shaw’s-opening loss to Seattle on July 16, scoring eight points and dishing out five assists in 27 minutes.

In Philadelphia’s 78-62 win over Milwaukee on July 19, the 5-foot-11 Queens native had eight points and a game-high nine assists and three steals in 33 minutes.

Claxton showed some of his range in a 80-62 loss to Boston, going 2-for-3 from three-point range for six points, to go along with three assists in 20 minutes. He wrapped up his summer league with four points and seven assists in 33 minutes in a 93-89 loss to New Jersey.

Former St. John’s players Chudney Gray (Memphis), Shawnelle Scott (San Antonio), Tyrone Grant (Denver) and Zendon Hamilton (Los Angeles Clippers) were also impressive during summer league action.

In other St. John’s basketball news, free agent Felipe Lopez re-signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves last Thursday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

After being released by the Washington Wizards last season, Lopez was picked up by the Timberwolves and averaged 7.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in 23 games, reaching double figure scoring six times.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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