Inside the Tyler Cook decision: 'He was really, really close' to leaving Iowa

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Tyler Cook got much, much more out of his pre-NBA draft experience than he initially imagined.

“Actually going into this, his hope was a workout,” his mother, Stephanie Cook, told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday night — just minutes after her son had informed Iowa’s coaches that he would be staying in school for his junior year. “So, we came out on top there.”

Iowa's Tyler Cook, shown during media day 2017, is coming back for his junior season after becoming the first Hawkeye sophomore in 23 years to put up 500 points in a season.

In fact, the 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward worked out for six different teams — the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets — and had a seventh, with the Houston Rockets, cancelled.

Part of the idea for underclassmen to test the NBA waters is to gather credible feedback to make an informed decision.

Cook got that feedback, and then some.

His mother told the Register he had a good opportunity to turn pro, and keep his name in next month's draft. That’s why it was such a difficult decision to come back — one that wasn’t finalized until about 6 p.m. Wednesday night, just five hours before the NBA's decision deadline for underclassmen who hadn't hired an agent to return to college.

In fact, Cook let it go so late, he ended up being the last of the Big Ten Conference’s stay-or-go players to render his decision publicly.

“He was really, really close (to leaving). He had an option,” Stephanie said. “We just figured, we had an option this time, it’s going to even be better next year.”

She obviously wouldn’t be doing her son any favors to publicly divulge the team that offered the NBA opportunity, but she did say, “He wanted to wait and get something better.” 

So, it sounds like Cook’s plan is three-and-done, not two-and-done, at Iowa.

And by the way: Going overseas was never an option or consideration for him.

“The NBA is his dream," his mother said. "That’s where his talent and his skill sets will best be utilized."

How about the feedback he got?

The good: NBA teams came away impressed at how a player at his size could handle the basketball and drive to the basket — that his natural skills would translate well to the next level.

“Iowa is a system. So, a lot of his athleticism and a lot of his skills aren’t often displayed there, because you’re playing in a system,” Stephanie said. “The NBA is much more floor space, much more freedom of movement.”

The stuff he needs to work on: His outside shot, first and foremost.

Cook has to get better from 18 feet and out; he’s a career 3-for-15 shooter at Iowa from 3-point range. If he wants to be an NBA player someday, he'll have to be consistently effective from deep. No question.

“It’s coming along. It’s improving,” his mom said. “Repetition is the key.”

There's no doubt Cook's mind was racing during the past 3 months. What 20-year-old's wouldn't have been while zig-zagging the country and working out with some of basketball's iconic franchises?

Something like this has to go a long way in improving a player's drive. 

After Peter Jok got NBA feedback after his junior year, he came back to Iowa with renewed fire as a senior — and was first-team all-Big Ten and the league's scoring champion.

Cook's challenge is to not only follow that same path, but embrace another year of college. He'll need to rekindle the same fire he had with his teammates as a freshman, when the Hawkeyes made a charge toward the NCAA Tournament bubble. If there are any chemistry issues, he'll need to address them head-on. 

"I thank God for the experiences that I had and progress I have made during this time," Cook said in a university release later Wednesday night. "I can't wait to get back to work and continue to try to lead this team back to the NCAA Tournament."

He can't let the same habits repeat themselves that led to last year's disappointing 14-19 campaign, even though it was a statistically superior year for Cook personally.

If improving his shot is item 1A for Cook, improving his interior defense and rebounding has to be 1B going into his junior year.

For the Hawkeyes to be successful, Cook needs to show he is a team player — as willing to take a charge as he is throw down one of his signature dunks.

“Everything that he learned is going to help him to be better," Stephanie said with assurance. "Even this whole experience will help him to be better. Another level of confidence. Much higher expectations of himself.

"So everything about the process, I think, will benefit not only him but also the team and his teammates."

Sounds like a plan. Let the next chapter of the Tyler Cook story begin.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.