Leistikow: Ex-Hawkeye Tyler Cook grateful for NBA opportunity, hopes to stick with Detroit Pistons
Aboard a recent flight from Detroit to his hometown of St. Louis, Tyler Cook found himself in a state of reflection about the whirlwind journey his basketball life has traveled over the past two years.
The most prominent feeling that emerged in his heart: Gratefulness.
Undrafted out of Iowa in 2019, Cook thought back to all the great players he’s encountered in college and the NBA’s G League who have never gotten the chance he’s had — particularly in the past two months — to wear an NBA uniform, play significant NBA minutes and make a noticeable impact at the game’s highest level.
“I’m an NBA player in terms of my skill set and abilities, I fully believe that. But I can’t take full credit for the opportunity I’ve been given, because a lot of people don’t get that,” Cook said this week in an interview with the Des Moines Register. “That’s why I make sure to point to … God and the coaches who believed in me to give me that opportunity.”
Tyler Cook was explosive at Iowa and that hasn't changed with Pistons.
It was March 15 that Cook signed with his sixth NBA organization, the Detroit Pistons. Thanks to positive impressions he’d made in previous stops with his explosiveness and work ethic and a newfound opening in the Pistons frontcourt with the departure of Blake Griffin, this opportunity was Cook's best chance yet to stick.
He signed one 10-day contract, then another. He made such a positive impression in those stints that Detroit signed him for the rest of the season.
And fueled by that two-month stretch with the Pistons (who finished 20-52, last in the Eastern Conference), Cook has notably become the most successful NBA player to emerge from Iowa in the 11-year Fran McCaffery era. Cook has scored 179 points over two seasons, pushing him ahead of former Hawkeyes Devyn Marble (97 points in 44 games with the Orlando Magic) and Jarrod Uthoff (59 NBA points with three teams). The career-high 17 points Cook scored against one of his former teams, the Denver Nuggets, on May 14 were the most in the NBA by an ex-Hawkeye since Reggie Evans scored 17 for the Sacramento Kings on Nov. 30, 2014.
“I just tried to come in and do what do best,” Cook said. “Bring energy and play as hard as I possibly can, and do everything they ask me to do when I’m on the floor.”
Part of what Cook did best at Iowa that he’s still doing now?
Cook’s thunderous throw-downs at Iowa were legendary, maybe none more famous than a one-handed lob from Jordan Bohannon against Illinois in the 2019 Big Ten Tournament.
The 6-foot-8, 255-pound forward had six dunks in one game for the Pistons, whose fan base is enthused about his power at the rim.
“I got back to my phone and the amount of Pistons’ fans notifications I had … it would take me days to scroll through,” Cook said. “It was incredible.”
Dunking always been a big part of Cook’s game. According to CleaningTheGlass.com, Cook ranked in the 91st percentile in the NBA in points per shot attempt. In 32 games (including one start) for the Pistons, he finished the season shooting 68% from the floor (an even 68-for-100).
“Layups are boring. Anytime I can dunk, I’m going to go ahead and dunk," Cook said. "… And everybody else loves it, so why not?”
Pistons coach Dwane Casey in April praised Cook’s energy, work ethic and ability to learn quickly. “He’s one of those guys that you want to keep in your program,” Casey said, “because he gives you everything.”
What's next for Cook in Detroit?
That’s the next hope for Cook, to stay with the Pistons. According to Spotrac.com, he was able to earn $693,121 last season with the Pistons and Brooklyn Nets. He is signed with Detroit for 2021-22 on a non-guaranteed deal. If Cook is on the Pistons roster as of Aug. 11 — five days after the league’s free-agency moratorium period closes — his $1.7 million contract with Detroit for next season would become guaranteed.
Cook knows he can't control Detroit's roster or draft moves between now and August. Until then, he'll keep working, just as he was known to do during his three years at Iowa. He said his basketball IQ has improved the most since leaving Iowa City. "My job is to be in the right spot at the right time," he said.
He’ll keep pressing into his faith, too, as he has done especially during the past two years.
“Really, since March Madness of 2019 when I decided I wouldn’t come back to Iowa, I haven’t had any certainty of what my future is going to hold,” Cook said. “I was forced to lean on my faith and believe that God was going to work things out for my good. These past two years in terms of my faith and my life, it’s been instrumental in my development as a Christian, as a man, in every aspect of my life.”
By no means does Cook, 23, believe he's reached the high point of his basketball career.
But as he put it, “I’m here.”
That's significant. He’s made it to the NBA. He’s proven he can hang with the best players in the world. The hope is that there are more opportunities ahead.
“I’ve never been too concerned with proving people wrong. Mostly, it’s just proving myself right,” Cook said. “I always felt I could perform at this level. And now to have the little bit of success I’ve had so far feels good.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.