Iowa Men's Basketball

Tyler Cook has serious concerns, but not with the Iowa men's basketball program

Former Hawkeye standout trying to keep pro career going and be a social activist

Iowa forward Tyler Cook (25) pumps up the crowd as he watches Michigan State guard Cassius Winston move with the ball du
Iowa forward Tyler Cook (25) pumps up the crowd as he watches Michigan State guard Cassius Winston move with the ball during a basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 24, 2019. (The Gazette)

Tyler Cook won’t shut up and dribble.

The 22-year-old former Iowa Hawkeyes basketball player from St. Louis tweets and retweets about social justice and racial equality, not sports. The African American would tell you if anything about his experience at Iowa was demeaning or hurtful. He says it wasn’t.

“Obviously,” Cook said from St. Louis this week, “it was different coming from St. Louis to Iowa City. It would have been different wherever I went.

“I actually lived in a predominantly white neighborhood and I went to a predominantly white high school. But still, the way of life and the way you interact with each other was different between here and there.”

He said he didn’t experience what so many former Iowa football players have written about recently, things about feeling racially disrespected and in some cases, abused, by a Hawkeye coach or coaches.

“Fortunately,” Cook said, “I never felt I had to deal with those issues in the basketball program. I would say 95 to 99 percent of the fans were great to us as far as we were concerned. Anywhere you go there will be outliers.

“But I remember going to a PTL game (in North Liberty) and seeing Confederate flags on the side of the highway and in front of people’s houses. We realized things weren’t as we’d hoped they would be. Like everything else, we kind of just navigated it.”

As for being part of Fran McCaffery’s basketball program for three years, Cook said “It was great. Even as things started in the recruiting process, I felt that I was going to be taken care of, that they cared about me as a person and as a player. It was genuine. There was never a moment that I didn’t feel safe or secure there.

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“I give not only Coach McCaffery, but the whole coaching staff, a world of credit for creating that type of environment. “It’s really a family. Even though I’m gone now, they still treat me like that. … I don’t think I could have made a better decision than being around those guys that I was around.”

Cook had quite a first season in professional basketball. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, and was waived near the end of training camp. He signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and was shuttled back and forth from the Cavaliers to their G League affiliate in nearby Canton, Ohio. He played in 12 games for Cleveland, 22 for Canton.

The Cavaliers waived him, but then signed him to a pair of 10-day contracts to keep him as long as they could. After the second contract elapsed, he wasn’t re-signed. Soon after, Canton traded him to the Oklahoma City Blue of the G League, where he played seven games before the coronavirus prematurely halted the season.

Cook said “I have no clue, honestly,” what his next professional move will be. “It could be in a few weeks or when next season starts.”

In the meantime, his old high school (Chaminade College Prep) has given him a key to its gym, and “thankfully, I have a place to go to stay sharp. But it’s still tough. You’re not working with a bunch of different guys or playing pickup ball.”

Meanwhile this offseason, anger and outrage by African Americans and others have flared nationally, fueled by the killing of George Floyd. Cook isn’t a silent observer.

“No, I can’t really be one,” he said. “The reality is something you can’t sit and ignore like it’s OK, because it’s not. It’s not just a phase. It’s a real problem that we face in our country and around the world. I feel like if I stay quiet then I’m not doing my job as a man or a citizen of the United States, period.”

To try to do something, Cook recently raffled off his first game-worn NBA jersey on Venmo, and raised about $5,000 that he will divide between families affected by social injustices in the St. Louis area and the justice fund for Breonna Taylor, an emergency room technician in Louisville, Ky., who was shot to death in March by police executing a no-knock search warrant.

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“We’re trying to figure out how to further support these causes,” said Cook, “not only financially, but by actions. It’s not something that’s far-fetched, to expect basic human rights for everybody regardless of the color of their skin.”

As for the former and current Iowa football players who put their names to their criticisms about the program, Cook said “I’m happy, I’m thrilled that those guys spoke out, said what they felt, shared their experiences.

“I applaud those guys. I know it took guts to come out and speak on what they felt. I think not only Iowa, but people around the world will get better from it.”

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

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