Leistikow: As Tyler Cook delays pro future, high expectations await at Iowa

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Now that Tyler Cook has pulled a mild upset — in announcing he would return to Iowa while delaying his pro prospects for at least another year — what must he to do as a college basketball junior?

Before we get to that, let's mention this: Cook’s decision didn’t come easily, and he kept things close to the vest. He became silent with Iowa media after his ominous March 1 interview at the Big Ten Tournament in New York City, then took his choice all the way to the finish line of Wednesday’s stay-or-go NBA draft deadline for underclassmen who don’t hire agents.

Cook received feedback from the likes of the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.

Iowa's Tyler Cook celebrates after drawing a foul during the Hawkeyes' game against Indiana at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018.

This decision was clearly well-informed. Someone (or lots of someones) convinced him he wasn’t wise to make the jump now to the next level. And so, he's a Hawkeye again, fresh off becoming the first Iowa sophomore in 23 years to score 500 points in a season.

After a recent workout with the Denver Nuggets, an interview with reporters there revealed some information about the feedback Cook was receiving.

He said he needed to show he could be an effective ball handler. (Fact check: True. He committed 147 turnovers in 60 career games at Iowa.)

He said he needed to improve his range, from 18 feet and out. (Fact check: True again. He is only 3-for-15 from 3-point range as a Hawkeye.)

He said he needed to become better defensive and "effort" rebounder. (Fact check: True, in the sense that he also needs to improve his defensive intensity to match his God-given athletic ability.)

Now … just imagine if Cook actually takes all that advice to heart (he will) and improves drastically in all of those areas (to be determined) and combines that with what he already does well (scoring near the rim).

If he can do all that, he will be the dominant college player that coach Fran McCaffery has long said Cook would become. Back on media day 2016, McCaffery said this of his 6-foot-9 forward: “I think he's an impact player, certainly on our team, in our league, and on a national level. I think he's that good.”

On a national level.

Now would be a great time for Cook to make good on that projection.

Iowa Hawkeyes forward Tyler Cook (5) pulls a rebound away from Iowa State Cyclones forward Solomon Young (33) during a game in Ames Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.

With Cook's decision, expectations will immediately go up for the 2018-19 Hawkeyes. He led the team last year in points (15.3 per game) and rebounds (6.8), which were bumps from his freshman numbers of 12.3 and 5.3.

You can’t come back with the ambitions of becoming a first-round NBA draft pick (McCaffery’s words, on KCJJ radio in Iowa City a few weeks ago, on what he thought would happen if Cook returned) and lead a team that goes 14-19 again.

Even though Cook has worked out with his Iowa teammates while wrapping up his spring semester, he still needs to demonstrate to them — from senior Nicholas Baer to junior Jordan Bohannon to sophomore Luka Garza to freshman Joe Wieskamp — that he is all-in with the Hawkeyes as a junior.

Sure, it’s obvious the end goal is to play in the NBA.

And as was shown with the many NBA invites he received, there's intrigue out there surrounding Cook's pro potential. (By comparison, Isaiah Moss had no known workouts before returning to Iowa.)

But for the Hawkeyes to be very good in 2018-19 — and get back on track for their first NCAA Tournament in three years — it’ll be up to Cook to show he can be a player who is as willing to take a charge as throw down one of his signature, thunderous dunks.

Iowa Hawkeyes forward Tyler Cook (5) dunks against Illinois Fighting Illini forward Michael Finke (43) during the first half of a first round game of the 2018 Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

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.