Iowa freshman Tyler Cook makes splashy PTL debut

Mark Emmert

NORTH LIBERTY, Ia. — Three things Iowa basketball fans learned about Tyler Cook in his splashy Prime Time League debut Thursday:

1. He’s ambi-dunk-sterous. The 6-foot-8 freshman forward is right-handed but his most emphatic dunks were with his left, including one late in the game that sent a jolt of electricity through the crowd.
2. He doesn’t mind contact. Initiating it. Absorbing it. Cook thudded to the floor three times on drives to the basket, popping up each time. He attempted nine free throws. He once tried to plow right through Hawkeyes teammate Ahmad Wagner, who is 6-foot-7, 225 pounds. It didn’t work.
3. He is already a crowd favorite. Cook is the most highly touted of Iowa’s five incoming freshmen, ranking 74th in the nation in's recruiting rankings. It was Cook the people came to see Thursday. It was Cook they left talking about.

Iowa freshman forward Tyler Cook goes up for two of his 27 points Thursday in his Prime Time League debut.

That crowd even included Cook’s mother, Stephanie, who had driven up from their home in St. Louis to see her son for the first time since he arrived on campus.

“She told me today that she was going come up,” Cook said after he scored 27 points and had eight rebounds to help his team to a 102-95 victory over Wagner’s squad on the opening night of the summer basketball league at the North Liberty Community Center. “She doesn’t like to miss basketball games at all. It’s been a month, but it feels like six months.”

Stephanie Cook was in the front row of the bleachers, where the crowd erupted after her son, isolated at the top of the key, drove to his left and dunked over a helpless defender late in the game. It was the most dramatic of his four dunks, and ended with a free throw to push his team’s lead to nine points.

Stephanie’s assessment afterward: Her son played well, but it looked like he’d lost a few of his 240 pounds during his initial adjustment to college.

If so, you’d be hard-pressed to convince Wagner, a sophomore who did the best job of guarding Cook Thursday, forcing the freshman to shoot from the outside at times and not backing down on one drive that resulted in a charging foul.

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“Tyler’s a freak, man, super athletic. He can jump, he can play inside-outside. He’s going to be a good tool for us this year. I’m happy we have him,” Wagner said after scoring 14 points, including a pair of long jump shots, and snaring 11 rebounds.

“Even though PTL, people don’t play a lot of hard defense, the guy does all the time. What you saw out of him is what you’re going to see this year.”

Cook’s night was not without blemishes. He made only 1-of-7 3-point attempts. He missed a first-half breakaway dunk, not getting enough elevation and being foiled by the front of the rim.

“That won’t happen again. I won’t be missing dunks,” he vowed.

Cook finished 9-of-12 on 2-point attempts. He made 6-of-9 free throws, an area he said he’s been working hard at since he draws so many fouls. His form looked good. He said his shooting percentage from the line was in the mid-60s early in his senior year of high school, but he raised that into the upper 70s through hard work.

As for the constant contact, Cook said he welcomes it.

“I can fight through it. I’m tough. I’m used to it. In high school, they hacked me all the time,” he said.

Wagner was one defender who didn’t Thursday. But he paid a price, particularly on a first-half sequence in which Cook lowered his shoulder and drove into his abdomen.

“He was a freight train,” Wagner said. “If you’re brave enough to stand in front of it, man, you can take it.”

Cook finished his media interviews Thursday and walked off with his mother, heading home for a holiday weekend and perhaps to restore those missing pounds.

Did he feel like he’d just made his college debut, he was asked.

“A little bit,” Cook said. “I’ll probably still have a little bit of butterflies the first game, but I kind of eased into it tonight.”

If that was “easing into” anything, Hawkeye fans, you might want to bring your hard hats to Carver-Hawkeye Arena this winter.