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NORTH LIBERTY — The unofficial count for dunks in the first of two Prime Time League playoff games Sunday was 19. Iowa forward Tyler Cook unofficially had 10 of them.
The sophomore-to-be saw his PTL season end, as his Marion Iron Works team lost to the Vinton Merchants team led by Brady Ellingson and Jack Nunge, but it wasn’t without an emphatic stamp on the summer league.
Cook was 15 of 21 from the field with 30 points, but it was those dunks that had the North Liberty Rec Center going — and even had his Hawkeye teammates on the opposing PTL team smiling. He found himself open in the lane, so he did what first came to mind.
“When I get there, I like to throw a little something on it,” Cook said. “I just kept getting to the rim, so I kept dunking.
“I know when people dunk hard on us, it’s demoralizing. It’s an easy bucket. I just try to do the same thing for our team.”
That was kind of the whole point of the PTL for Cook, actually.
Last year coming in, Cook had more to prove, putting his talent on display against his Iowa teammates for the first time in live action. This year, he’s well-established and has far more to gain working in the select team practices Iowa is allowed each summer.
So while some of his teammates had specific things they wanted to get out of the PTL, Cook said there was “nothing I set out to do particularly,” other than to “come out and have fun and throw down some dunks.”
He traded several with incoming freshman Jack Nunge. The pair guarded each other throughout the early game Sunday, and the elder forward had the edge more often than not — despite Nunge outscoring him with 34 points.
In addition to the dunks, Cook also had a couple emphatic blocks. The first came against Northern Iowa’s Klint Carlson, but the other — and riskier one — came against Nunge.
Cook jumped late and blocked what looked like a sure dunk. After the ball went out of bounds, Nunge turned around laughing but incredulous that Cook turned him away.
“My hand was already going down,” Nunge said. “I thought the ball was in the rim and he blocked it. It was a great block — one of the best blocks I’ve ever seen.”
Cook laughed after the game, saying in retrospect the margin for error was far too thin. After consulting a couple other teammates watching from the stands, they agreed, too.
“I shouldn’t have jumped; it was a little too close,” Cook said. “I don’t like getting dunked on, so once I jumped I knew I had to get it or I was probably going to leave the gym.
“There really wasn’t much space; that’s why I should’ve have jumped. Maishe (Dailey) and Ahmad (Wagner) said it was close. I probably won’t be cutting it that close again.”
All kidding aside, Cook has made gains this summer, both in the PTL and out.
The dunks are nice, and certainly have an effect on the game given the adrenaline rush he and his teammates both get, coupled with what he said about it affecting opponents mentally. But it’s been in the film room where Cook has done most of his work.
If he wants to improve on 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game from his freshman season at Iowa, that’s where he said it will come.
His court vision appeared much improved during his PTL games — whether they led to an actual assist or not — and that comes down to his basketball IQ. Building on an already high intelligence and matching that with his physical gifts could make his year special.
“My IQ has gotten a lot better this offseason,” Cook said. “Being able to handle the ball better kind of opens up some more opportunities to get other guys open.
“Looking back on the season I had, watching film — when I watch film I look at not only baskets I made, but that I missed and the opportunities that I could make a better play. I’ll watch each game twice or three times over again and other college teams and pros. Just being able to watch situations and know what I can do next time I get in that situation has helped me a lot.”
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