Tyler Cook draws raves from all corners as Iowa freshman

Mark Emmert

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Just when you thought the expectations for Tyler Cook couldn’t get any higher, someone — his coach, an Iowa teammate, even Cook himself — would lob another alley-oop of a quote Wednesday.

“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,” Hawkeyes basketball coach Fran McCaffery said of his prized freshman forward early during the team’s media day gathering at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Well, sure, you would expect the coach that recruited Cook out of Chaminade Prep in St. Louis to say something like that. But it’s not like Cook is a sure-fire all-American, is he?

Iowa freshman Tyler Cook talks with reporters during media day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016.

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“He’s going to dunk on you, and you know it’s going to come and there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Cordell Pemsl, another freshman forward. “But honestly, his game has improved so much since he moved here. In June, he was an OK shooter at best. And now, he put up five 3s yesterday in practice in our five-on-five. And none of them touched the rim.”

OK, so Cook, the 38th-ranked player on ESPN’s list of incoming freshmen, can dunk the ball and is working on his outside shot. Doesn’t seem all that rare, does it? And Pemsl’s just an impressionable rookie anyway.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in the country or in the Big Ten as a big that can guard him, because he’s too skilled for any big or too big for any guard,” Hawkeyes senior Peter Jok said. “I think if he just stays consistent this year, then he’s going to be a great player.”

That sealed it. It was time to go directly to the 6-foot-9 Cook, who was surrounded by reporters and cameras, to see if all the adulation, before he’s even played a college game, was really warranted.

“I’ve kind of been jumping over the line between cockiness and confidence,” Cook said, his personality as big as his smile.

Which side of the line is he on right now?

“I’ve got 100 percent confidence, I’ll tell you that,” Cook answered. “And I’m veering toward the cockiness side. I think that’s just only in competition.”

Cook is the brightest light of a five-player freshman class that McCaffery hopes lays the foundation for years of success. But no one, least of all Jok, is viewing this as purely a rebuilding season.

Yes, the Hawkeyes lost four starters from a team that finished 22-11 last year. But the one who returns (Jok) averaged 16.1 points, shot 40 percent from the 3-point arc and was named second team all-Big Ten. He will be the focal point of every scouting report this year, making it incumbent on other Hawkeyes to relieve some of that pressure.

Juniors Dom Uhl (6.0 points per game last year) and Nicholas Baer (4.8) can certainly help. Dale Jones, the only other senior on the roster, could be a big-time scorer but is battling back from knee surgery.

That may make Cook the most important player on the team. Unfair pressure to put on a freshman?

“My expectations for myself are bigger than anyone else’s. I can guarantee you that,” Cook said.

Cook just turned 19, but he carries himself with a disarming maturity. He speaks not as a braggart, but someone with hard-earned swagger.

Cook was a self-described “little chubby kid” just six years ago. He said he weighed then what he weighs now — 253 pounds — but was five inches shorter. That’s when he got serious about his sport, spending hours in the gym with a trainer working on shooting, ball-handling and conditioning.

He became good enough to be a four-year starter at Chaminade Prep, a two-time team captain and a state champion as a senior. His statistics were modest — 13 points and seven rebounds per game — but Cook was voted first team all-state in Missouri, a sign that those who actually saw him play recognized the depth of his talent.

College coaches recognized it, too. Seventeen high-major programs offered scholarships, including Kansas, Purdue and Iowa State.

McCaffery landed him, and he wasn’t about to tamp down the excitement Wednesday. He said Cook has the highest ceiling of any recruit he’s ever had.

And he plans to lean on Cook’s versatility from the outset.

“He'll line up in the forward position, but you'll see him bring it down. You'll see him post-up. You'll see him shoot 3s, attack the rim, playing ball screen action,” McCaffery said of Cook. “That's what I told him when we recruited him, that we'll utilize him that way.”

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Cook said he patterns his game after his NBA hero, LeBron James. That means passing as often as shooting, trying to make everyone around him better.

“All I know is I just have to be the best player I can be. That’s for myself, that’s for my teammates,” Cook said.

“I think he’s capable of being a star,” McCaffery said of Cook, who was later asked what that word means to him.

“I don’t have a definition for you yet,” Cook said after a pause and yet another confident smile.

“But hopefully you guys will be able to see something soon.”

Iowa opens the season Nov. 11 against Kennesaw State.

Tip times, TV set for Hy-Vee Classic


Coach: Fran McCaffery, seventh season at Iowa, 369-263 overall in 20 seasons.

Last season: 22-11 (12-6 in Big Ten Conference), lost against Villanova in NCAA Tournament's second round after earning an at-large bid.

Key departures: F Jarrod Uthoff, 18.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 31.5 mpg; Anthony Clemmons, 8.9 ppg, 3.7 apg; Mike Gesell, 8.1 ppg, 6.2 apg; Adam Woodbury, 7.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg.

Key newcomers: Jordan Bohannon, 6-0 PG; named Mr. Basketball in Iowa as a senior at Linn-Mar after averaging 25.8 ppg, he is the youngest of four brothers to play Division I hoops. He is expected to push sophomore Christian Williams for the starting point guard job ... Tyler Cook, 6-9 PF; the highest-rated (No. 74 nationally by Rivals) of Iowa's five freshmen recruits, Cook should be an immediate starter ... Maishe Dailey, 6-6, SG; the Ohio native was the final recruit to join this Hawkeyes' class in May after decommitting from Rutgers ... Ryan Kriener, 6-9 PF; the big man from Spirit Lake averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds as a senior but was slowed this summer by a mystery illness ... Cordell Pemsl, 6-8 PF; the bruiser out of Dubuque Wahlert has had two knee surgeries and is still rounding back into shape but could give Iowa an intriguing backup at the power forward and center positions this winter.

2016-17 SCHEDULE

November—4: vs. Regis, 7 p.m. BTN Plus; 11: vs. Kennesaw State. 8:30 p.m., BTN Plus; 13: vs. Savannah State, 2:30 p.m., BTN Plus; 17: vs. Seton Hall, 8 p.m., BTN; 20: vs. Texas-Rio Grande Valley. 4:30 p.m., BTN Plus; 25. vs. Virginia in Destin, Fla., 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network; 26: vs. TBA in Destin, Fla., CBS Sports Network; 29: at Notre Dame, 8 p.m., ESPN2.

December—3: vs. Omaha, 1 p.m., BTN Plus; 5: vs. Stetson, 6 p.m., ESPNU; 8: vs. Iowa State, 7 p.m., ESPN2; 17: vs. Northern Iowa in Des Moines, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3; 20: vs. North Dakota, 8 p.m., BTN; 22: vs. Delaware State, 8 p.m., BTN; 28: at Purdue, 8 p.m., BTN.

January—1: vs. Michigan, TBA, BTN; 5: at Nebraska, 8 p.m., BTN; 8: vs. Rutgers, 1:15 or 3:30 p.m., BTN; 12: vs. Purdue, 8 p.m.,BTN; 15: at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m., BTN; 19: vs. Maryland, 6 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2; 25: at Illinois, 8 p.m., BTN; 28: vs. Ohio State, 7 p.m., ESPN2; 31: at Rutgers, 6 p.m., BTN.

February—5: vs. Nebraska, 1 p.m., BTN; 8: at Minnesota, 8 p.m., BTN; 11: at Michigan State, 5 p.m., BTN; 18: vs. Illinois, 1 p.m., BTN; 21: vs. Indiana, 8 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2; 25: at Maryland, TBA, ESPN or ESPN2

March—2: at Wisconsin, 8 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2; 5: vs. Penn State, noon, BTN; 8-11: Big Ten Tournament.