Iowa Men's Basketball

Tyler Cook gave Iowa men's basketball plenty

Iowa forward did nothing to get anything from fans but thanks

Iowa forward Tyler Cook (25) dunks the ball during a game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. (The Gazette)
Iowa forward Tyler Cook (25) dunks the ball during a game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. (The Gazette)

Here are things you may or may not have known about Tyler Cook:

He cared far more about winning than scoring 25 points.

He had great rapport with his Iowa Hawkeyes basketball teammates. He was always quick to praise them to outsiders, always quick to give credit to them. He did the same with his coaches.

Whenever Cook was requested by reporters to be interviewed after an Iowa game, win or lose, he showed up and answered the questions. Not with short, terse replies that didn’t really say anything. Rather, he gave actual answers, even to questions he may not have liked. He answered them thoughtfully, articulately.

He enjoyed competition. When Iowa lost a hard-fought game to Wisconsin in Iowa City last December, Cook was disappointed afterward but didn’t seem depressed. My interpretation was that was because he and his teammates had competed hard against a good team that did likewise, and he felt no shame in the result knowing the effort was there.

Cook passed through Iowa without once embarrassing himself, his team or his school on or off the court. That’s something to appreciate. Anyone who faults him for leaving with a season of eligibility left is selfish and foolish.

Yes, Cook is leaving the Iowa program. It’s what he wants, and if it’s what he wants it’s what he should do. He didn’t commit to four years at Iowa. He committed to trying his best while he was there, and he honored that commitment.

Was he a perfect player? No. I’m still waiting for one of those to wear a Hawkeyes jersey. That Cook was a 4-star recruit out of St. Louis put great hopes and expectations on his chiseled shoulders. He would have to be an All-American to satisfy some. Had he come to Iowa as an unheralded recruit and averaged 14.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in his career, we’d be writing poetry about him.

But Cook was a very good player, good enough to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors by league media and third-team by its coaches this year. There isn’t a Big Ten coach who wouldn’t have happily welcomed him had he been a free agent.

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Cook had a brutal, frustrating first half in Iowa’s second-round NCAA Tournament game against Tennessee. He could have called it a career right there when the Hawkeyes trailed by 21 points at halftime. They weren’t coming back from that, or so nearly everyone thought.

So what happened? Cook scored Iowa’s first nine points of the second half, and his team fed off his refusal to bow meekly to the Volunteers. The Hawkeyes came all the way back to send the game to overtime before falling.

“I just felt like I let myself and the team down in the first half,” Cook said. “I didn’t have the energy I needed to have. Wasn’t aggressive enough. I just wasn’t being who Tyler Cook is.”

“I knew if I was going to struggle, at least I was going to play my ass off. I came out in the second half and tried to do that. I still feel I didn’t make enough plays, but I played with heart in the second half.”

Coming back for his junior season wasn’t Cook’s first desire, but it became clear last spring that it was his best option. Instead of returning with a frown on his face or becoming more selfish, he did exactly the opposite. He played with zest, with positivity. Many in the same circumstances would not have.

Cook wants to play pro ball, and now instead of later. We’ve seen other Hawkeye players of recent vintage — Devyn Marble, Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok — either get cups of coffee in the NBA or not get inside it at all — and all were superb at Iowa. You have to be special just to get a 15th spot on a roster, and no former Iowa player currently has that much.

Some are certain Cook doesn’t have enough of what it takes to become an NBA player next winter. Of course, those who say that don’t know any such thing. But if Cook doesn’t catch on with an NBA club, he’ll find a home in pro basketball somewhere on this planet, and that’s not a bad thing.

Here’s wishing him happiness and success.

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

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