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IOWA CITY — You may not be thrilled having college basketball shoved down your throat in the first week of October, and it may not thrill me to do part of the shoving.
But listening to Fran McCaffery talk Wednesday about the most-touted freshman on his youthful 2016-17 Iowa men’s basketball team was a gust of fresh air in the middle of football season, where big-picture talk is considered taboo.
“I think he’s capable of being a star, I really do,” McCaffery said about four-star recruit Tyler Cook of St. Louis, a chiseled, 6-foot-9 freshman who may add a lot of entertainment value to tickets to Hawkeye games this winter.
“You guys who have been around me know I say what I think, so it’s not like let’s go easy and not push him,” McCaffery said. “I think I have a responsibility to be honest, and I think he’s an impact player certainly on our team, in our league, and on a national level. I think he’s that good.”
That’s right, a coach put that on his freshman big man: Be a star. Be a national impact player. I love it.
But McCaffery would never have done it if the 19-year-old Cook was an emotional work-in-progress. This player expects the expectations.
“This summer my dad called me one time and we had a long talk,” said Cook. “My dad said ‘You’re a freshman, not a rookie.’ That kind of stuck with me.
“It’s my first year here, but I’ve been playing basketball a long time. I think I know what I’m doing a little bit.
“I was highly recruited for a reason. I can do a lot of things on the court. I can help out in a lot of different ways.”
As cocky as those comments may seem left to themselves, Cook didn’t stand at center court of Carver-Hawkeye Arena during his first college media day and shout “Climb on my shoulders, I’m taking you to the promised land!”
In fact, the first thing I heard him utter was “Potential is a dangerous word. It just means you haven’t done anything yet.
“The expectations I have for myself are above anybody else’s. Just to be the best I can be. Making sure I’m leading, making sure I’m doing everything the coaches ask me to do.”
McCaffery had a simple, effective plan for how to sell Iowa to a player who had high-profile programs from around the country after him. He told Cook he was going to be a multidimensional player before Cook realized it himself.
“Nobody likes to be put in a box, obviously,” Cook said. “Especially myself.
“I kind of do a little bit of everything on the court. Fran saw that in me. He’s seen me work out, seen me play. He preached to me from Day One when he recruited me that you’ve got to be more than just a post player, got to be more than a 5-man.
“That he saw that before I even saw it was a big factor for me.”
Cook said he shoots thousands of shots a day from all over the court. He opened his PTL season with four dunks, but he made three 3-pointers in the title game a few weeks later.
“I try to make myself as unguardable as possible,” he said.
His basketball role models? “LeBron James, Draymond Green, DeMarre Carroll, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin — guys that can do a little bit of everything, pretty much everything from the 3s (small forwards) to the 5s (centers).
“I watch a ton of film. Just watching pretty much everybody I can, trying to soak in as much information as possible.”
For 19, Cook speaks articulately and purposefully. He’s a freshman in the interview game, not a rookie.
“We were ranked in the top 10 in the country in high school my junior and senior year,” he said. “Obviously, being one of the top 50 players in the country, you get a lot of this kind of stuff. You just get used to it over the years.”
We now return you to your regularly scheduled button-down college football programming.