College Basketball

DeCock: In new role, Duke’s Cook flourishes as scorer, leader

Duke guard Quinn Cook reacts as time runs out on the Cavaliers as Duke upset undefeated Virginia 69-63 on Jan. 31 at John Paul Jones Arena at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va.
Duke guard Quinn Cook reacts as time runs out on the Cavaliers as Duke upset undefeated Virginia 69-63 on Jan. 31 at John Paul Jones Arena at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Quinn Cook’s senior season at Duke has become one of the most remarkable in recent memory, and not only because of his performance. Tyus Jones’ arrival as perhaps the most highly touted point guard in the country shunted Cook aside, as expected.

Less expected was the way Cook, Duke’s only scholarship senior, has flourished beside Jones in the backcourt and as a leader.

“I don’t think any of us, not that we didn’t expect him to be good, but when two areas are outstanding, I’m not sure you can expect that,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Going into Wednesday’s game against North Carolina in Durham, Krzyzewski called Cook as valuable a player to his team as any in the country. With Duke sitting at 22-3, on a five-game winning streak including wins against Virginia and Notre Dame, it’s hard to argue.

The forgotten man has become the most essential. On a team full of freshman stars, Duke’s most important player has been the one who was expected to be the most marginalized. And as players have left the program, Cook has not only stayed, but become the Blue Devils’ stalwart.

Jones and Cook talked a good game about playing together before the season, but it’s one thing to talk about it then and another to go out and do it.

And Jones and Cook have done it. Or more accurately, Cook has done it. He’s been asked to play a different position, fill a different role, and he has done it with aplomb.

Cook is Duke’s best 3-point shooter – he’s even been good, a combined 11 for 20, in Duke’s three losses – and second-leading scorer, behind Jahlil Okafor, while playing a team-high 35.2 minutes per game. And even though Okafor is shooting 66.5 percent, Cook is a more efficient offensive player, in part due to his ballhandling ability.

Cook hit some of the biggest shots in the comebacks against St. John’s and Virginia and he’s also the reigning ACC player of the week after scoring a combined 43 points in road wins against Florida State and Syracuse, playing all 40 minutes in both games. In Duke’s best half of basketball of the year – maybe anyone’s – Cook nearly single-handedly shut down Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant.

“Quinn is playing great this year,” North Carolina guard Marcus Paige said. “Since I’ve been here, this is the best basketball he’s been playing.”

More important, Cook has been a crucial veteran leader on an extremely young team, something Duke largely lacked in 2012 and 2014, when young teams made early exits from the NCAA tournament.

His strutting and celebrating might rub opponents the wrong way, but it injects energy and confidence into a team that’s still inexperienced at the college level, especially after Rasheed Sulaimon’s departure.

Others may be surprised at Cook’s impact. He is not.

“I definitely did sense it coming into the season, just being I’m the only senior, I’m the most experienced guy,” Cook said. “Coach wanted me to be a leader. After we lost to Mercer last year, he basically told me, ‘This is your last chance. I need you to lead these guys.’ I got coach’s blessing.”

That’s exactly how it has worked out. Duke has bigger names, better NBA prospects, more talented players, but they all take their cues from Cook. And will again Wednesday.

“He’s had a fabulous year, not a good year,” Krzyzewski said. “Our guys believe in him. He’s been like a rock, in addition to some outstanding performances that he’s had.”

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

  Comments