Iowa Men's Basketball

Tyler Cook knows it: His defense must improve

Returning Hawkeyes top-scorer has to work on his all-around game to reach NBA

Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery talks to forward Tyler Cook (5) during a game at Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena in January. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery talks to forward Tyler Cook (5) during a game at Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena in January. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Boiled down, here is the takeaway Tyler Cook got from NBA people on how to possibly have a future playing in that league:

“Being able to guard 1 through 5.”

That was the first thing Cook cited Thursday among things he was told he must be able to do to eventually get an NBA roster spot.

“When I get there, the chances I’ll be option 1A are very slim. I’ve got to be able to ... whatever they need me to do,” Cook said, discussing what he learned from workouts with six NBA teams this spring. “Whether that’s being a defender, a rebounder, (doing) the dirty work, whatever that may be.”

Cook’s coach, Fran McCaffery, echoed that.

“Nobody plays traditional defense anymore in the NBA,” McCaffery said. “They switch everything.

“So a guy like him with his incredible athletic ability to move his feet and stay in his stance, they told him this is critical. You’re going to have to guard a center, you’ve got to guard a power forward, you’ve got to guard a small forward, you’ve got to guard a 2-guard, you’ve got to guard a point guard. Because it’s positionless basketball in the NBA.

“He fits well with that mold. So defensively, being able to stay in your stance and stay committed in that stance on the weak side, come over and block shots, rotate out on the 3-point shooter, rotate out on the driver, slide your feet, make them make a tough two — those kinds of things are absolutely critical.”

McCaffery and all of Hawkeyeland learned Wednesday that Cook was withdrawing from the NBA draft pool and coming back to Iowa for another season. He’ll wear No. 25 instead of No. 5 for reasons he said he’ll reveal later.

On a team with its top nine scorers apparently returning and the top four having averaged 11 or more points, Cook’s challenge is to go from a very capable offensive performer to a very capable all-around player.

“He has always put winning above everything,” McCaffery said. “He’s never been a guy that hunts shots and ‘I need to get more points today.’ If somebody’s open, he throws the ball. If he’s open, he shoots it. If he’s jammed, he’s moving it on. He’s a team guy first and forward.”

“I want to be the guy who leads this team in every way possible,” Cook said. “At the same time, a bunch of guys can do their part as well.”

Like the rest of his team, Cook’s defense has to improve or Iowa won’t make a satisfying enough improvement from its 14-19 record of last season. At the same time, you can’t dismiss the importance of a 6-foot-9 player who will be one of just seven returning Big Ten players who averaged 15 points last season.

“You see how good he was his as a freshman,” McCaffery said, “and his statistics all went up. He’s a high-percentage shooter, the leading scorer and rebounder. He had some unbelievable games.

“His points will go up. His rebounds will go up. His blocked shots will go up. His assists-to-turnovers ratio was better (last season). It’s got to get better again. All those factors equate to winning basketball and moving up in his draft position.”

Cook said he didn’t decide he was returning to Iowa until Wednesday.

“I won’t go into the specifics and details,” he said. “I will say I had an opportunity, that it’s obviously taken me a while to sit down and think about it. It was a legitimate choice that I had to make.

“I had to do what was best for myself, what was best for my family long-term. We just felt like coming back to Iowa was the smart decision to make.”

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

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