The spotlight has shined brightly on this 6-foot-6 swingman during AAU ball and the summer evaluation camps, but has eluded him during recent high school seasons.
Over the past two years, Cooke, who transferred to Northern Valley Regional (Old Tappan, NJ) from New York’s LaSalle Academy for the 2000-2001 school year, has been eligible to play in only eight high school games.
The native of Brooklyn averaged 32 points and 15 rebounds in those games, enough to raise the eyebrows of any scout, but Cooke’s reputation had already been made the summer before at the 2000 ABCD Camp. There, he earned Camp MVP honors, displaying an innate ability to score, rebound and distribute. Unstoppable with the ball in his hands, Cooke may be the best passing swingman in the country.
Those talents are sure to be on display at the Roundball Classic in Chicago, even though Cooke, rated the No. 2 player in this year’s senior class by Student Sports, says he’s got nothing to prove.
“I just want to let the scouts know I’m still working on my game,” he says. “And that I play hard whenever I get on the court.”
Scouts? Cooke has long been rumored to be bypassing college for the NBA, but has worked hard during the school year in an effort to gain college eligibility and preserve his options.
“It’s not definite that I’m going to the NBA,” he insists. “It’s going to be my decision. It all depends on how I feel when I’m finished with school.”
Cooke says that his year out of the spotlight hasn’t been hard for him to deal with, even as the player he’s most often compared to, St. Vincent-St. Mary junior LeBron James, is everywhere, from the cover of Student Sports Magazine to Sports Illustrated.
Indeed, Cooke may be a prime reason the legend of LeBron has grown to such proportions. In an ABCD Camp game last year, the two were matched head-to-head. By all accounts, James won the battle, outscoring Cooke, 24-9 and sticking the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to give his team a two-point win.
Still, Cooke says he’s not jealous of all the attention James has received. “I don’t pay attention because everyone wants me to fail,” he explains. “I know that I’m better than him.”