Iowa Men's Basketball

Hlas: Is Tyler Cook's return to Iowa basketball a slam dunk?

The older you get, the more distant the NBA gets

Iowa forward Tyler Cook (5) dunks during the Hawkeyes’ Carver-Hawkeye Arena game against Michigan State on Feb. 6, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa forward Tyler Cook (5) dunks during the Hawkeyes’ Carver-Hawkeye Arena game against Michigan State on Feb. 6, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Is Tyler Cook’s upcoming decision a foregone conclusion or a cliffhanger?

Cook said last month he will go to the NBA or he’ll return to the Iowa men’s basketball team for his junior season. That would rule out signing with a pro team in, say, the Netherlands or New Zealand.

The 6-foot-9 forward has not hired an agent, so he has until May 30 to retain his NCAA eligibility by withdrawing from the NBA draft pool. Last week, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Cook had workouts scheduled with six NBA teams.

“He’s got an opportunity to meet the front offices of all those teams, be interviewed, do the workouts,” McCaffery said. “Some of them will be different than others. It’s something he’s able to take advantage of.

“I’m thrilled for him and rooting for him.”

It’s doubtful Cook would be selected in the June 21 NBA Draft. A record 236 players were on the NBA’s official early-entry list, including Cook and Isaiah Moss of Iowa and Iowa State’s Lindell Wigginton. Just 69 were invited to next week’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. Sixty players get drafted.

What will Cook do if getting drafted remains improbable? Is a return to Iowa a slam dunk? Or, would he consider pushing forward and leaving the Hawkeyes behind, maybe to try to get an NBA Summer League roster spot in hopes of impressing someone enough to get invited to an NBA training camp in late September?

That’s a tough road to The League, but the heart wants what it wants. For now, let’s say Cook would choose to stay in school. What would that mean to the Hawkeyes? Besides the obvious fact the team would have its leading scorer and rebounder from last season’s 14-19 club.

Well, Iowa would have all its firepower back from the team that went 4-14 in Big Ten play. It would be the only team in the conference returning four players who averaged over 10 points per game last season in Cook (15.3), Jordan Bohannon (13.5), Luka Garza (12.1) and Moss (11.1).

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Moss, a junior-to-be guard, said in April he was an early-entry “to get a lot of feedback, see what they think of me, what I need to work on.”

Only three other Big Ten teams will have as many as three players who averaged double-figures in scoring last season.

With Cook and Moss in tow, Iowa would return 94 percent of the 79.7 points per game it scored in 2017-18. Of course, that comes with an asterisk. The Hawkeyes also allowed 83.1 points in Big Ten games, easily the league’s most.

However, experience and offensive capability count for something, and the team is adding another scorer in freshman Joe Wieskamp of Muscatine.

That Cook and Moss didn’t get Combine invites isn’t damning. There were 236 early-entry candidates. Just 69 got invited to the Combine, eight from the Big Ten.

Other Big Ten early-entries not going to the Combine include Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr., Indiana’s Juwan Morgan and Purdue’s Carsen Edwards.

Edwards and Palmer were named first-team All-Big Ten by the league’s coaches. The media voted Edwards and Happ to their first-team. Morgan was a consensus second-team pick.

Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue were the Big Ten’s four NCAA tourney teams. They are losing the likes of Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr., Moritz Wagner, Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards and Keita Bates-Diop.

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Yes, good programs reload. But experience matters. National-champion Villanova had four juniors among its top six players. Four of 30-win Purdue’s top five scorers were seniors. Loyola reached the Final Four because it had excellent players, but also because four of its five top scorers were seniors and juniors.

Yet, there is a stigma about being a college upperclassmen when it comes to the NBA. Sixteen freshmen were picked in the first round of last year’s NBA draft compared to three juniors and two seniors. You can understand any player feeling like he’s got to turn pro before it’s too late.

Whither Cook? We’ll soon know.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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