NORTH LIBERTY, Ia. — Tyler Cook established himself as a mainstay in Iowa’s starting lineup as a freshman, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy the 6-foot-9 forward.
Cook said Sunday his goal for Year 2 with the Hawkeyes is simple and all-encompassing: “Just be the guy that our team can depend on, offensively or defensively.”
The graduation of guard Peter Jok leaves Iowa with a leadership void, and Cook is preparing to fill it, just as he did on his high school team in St. Louis. That involves much more than points and rebounds.
“It’s a responsibility that I’m looking forward to. I knew once he left last year that I was going to be that guy this year,” Cook said.
The offseason has been about maturation for Cook, who averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds as a freshman. He said he’s working harder than ever on all aspects of his game, but particularly trying to see the court better. He’s even patterning his game after NBA star LeBron James.
The hope is that will lead to better defense. The hope is that will help him turn around a weakness in his game from a season ago, when he finished with 26 assists against 65 turnovers.
“I realized how much better my court awareness needed to be, just being able to read things three steps ahead,” Cook said.
It was noticeable Sunday at the North Liberty Community Center that Cook’s game is more subdued and focused. He wasn’t always trying for the flashy dunk, the ones that elicited murmurs of excitement from the crowds here a summer ago.
Instead, Cook was more likely to complete his drives to the basket with layups.
“It still is the goal,” Cook smiled when asked about his dunks (there were three Sunday). “I’ve been working on a lot of finishes too because I know I’m not a center. I need to be able to finish around and over bigger guys than myself.”
Cook still flashed that amiable smile throughout his game, often joking and wrestling with Hawkeye teammate Jordan Bohannon — who was an opponent Sunday — during lulls in the action. But there’s also a seriousness about Cook this summer as he prepares to try to lead Iowa back to the NCAA Tournament.
He has taken a break from social media, stepping away from Twitter because he believed he was spending too much time there.
“It wasn’t a problem or anything, I just found myself on it too much. I shut Twitter down. I’ll probably be back on it midseason,” Cook said.
“It wasn’t helping me as much as people think it does. I’m a little late on a lot of news unfortunately, but that’s the only thing I miss.”
Iowa forward Ryan Kriener joked that he’s seen a different side of Cook emerge this summer, one that wants to emulate Jok’s style of play.
“He wasn’t scared to do anything (last summer), and now he’s trying to be a 2 guard,” Kriener said with a laugh as Cook eavesdropped on his interview Sunday. “I like him better as a 4. When he plays like LeBron James, that’s my favorite Tyler.”
Cook’s working on holding up his end of that comparison.
“I just watch how he sees the floor mostly. Just watching how he picks and chooses his spots, when to attack and when to find open guys,” Cook said of watching James. “I just try to pick his brain through film, if that makes any sense.”
Cook is an even more imposing player this summer than last. There was no one Sunday who could keep him from getting to the rim when that was his chosen option.
“I think physically I’m more explosive. I’m faster. I know how to use my energy so I can last for the whole game,” Cook said. “I just think my game’s much more efficient. I think I can score from all three levels 10 times better than last year.
“I had a good year by most people’s standards, but I don’t think I performed the way I wanted to. I’m just looking forward to being back on the floor. I’m excited to show what I can do. I’m excited to show what our team can do.”