Duke's point is in Cook’s hands

lkeeley@newsobserver.comNovember 1, 2012 

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Duke freshman Quinn Cook (2) scores on an acrobatic second half play over UNC-G's Korey Van Dussen (11). Duke defeated UNC-G 90-63 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham,N.C. Monday Dec.19, 2011.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

— As soon as Duke’s season ended last year, Nolan Smith gave Quinn Cook a piece of advice.

“Get in the gym.”

“When you come in as a McDonald’s All-American and with all the accolades and don’t do what you expected and probably what a lot of people expected and your playing time is up and down but you show flashes of what you can do, it’s time to get in the lab and work hard,” Smith said of Cook. “He really just needed to take his first year at Duke and, one, put it all behind him and get ready for bigger and better things.”

Cook averaged 11.7 minutes, 4.4 points, and 1.9 assists last season. Part of the problem was the lingering knee injury Cook brought to Duke, which forced him to miss Duke’s summer trip to China and much of the preseason. In total, Cook missed seven months, and he never caught up to the rest of the team.

Smith, who has known Cook since he was 9 years old and helped him cope with the 2008 death of his father, fed him encouragement throughout the season. Smith could relate – he, too, had failed to meet expectations his freshman year. Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder star and another childhood friend, also reached out to Cook after seeing him react poorly to a taunt on Twitter after a bad game.

“They kept me sane,” Cook said of Durant and Smith. “I’ve never been through a process like I went through last year.”

He took Smith’s advice. He took to the gym.

Cook spent the first part of his summer back home in the Washington area, working out daily. He caught up with Durant one weekend in between the NBA Finals and the Olympics, and he saw Smith on several occasions.

For one 10-day stretch, Cook went to Portland to stay with Smith, who is entering his second year with the Trail Blazers. Smith showed him a few tricks on the court.

“Out here, our focus was defense, and I let him guard me one-on-one full court and gave him some tips defensively so he can be the leader that (Mike Krzyzewski) is always looking for on the ball,” Smith said. “I told him defense is all about wanting to do it, and Quinn is a tough-minded kid. He’s been through a lot, and he knows what toughness is, and that’s all defense is.”

Feeling better, Cook returned to Durham for the second half of the summer. He played pickup with and against reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving and showed off his improved conditioning by running the fastest mile in Duke’s annual conditioning test.

“I don’t even know if he finished in the top half his freshman year,” Mason Plumlee said. “He’s playing really well, he’s playing confident.”

From the beginning of Duke’s informal summer workouts, Cook was the starting point guard. There was no sit-down talk, just a consistent appointment to lead Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry and Alex Murphy down the floor. With that success brought more confidence and a swagger that was on display this preseason.

“That’s good for him to have an ego,” Seth Curry said. “With him being in and out of the lineup last year, he didn’t have any confidence at all, he didn’t have any rhythm. Now I think he has a lot of confidence and is expecting to do a lot of things.”

At “Countdown to Craziness,” he danced his way to midcourt, not unlike Smith used to during his introductions. He threw two ally-oops to Plumlee in the opening 10-minute scrimmage. He looked comfortable.

“He’s somebody with a personality a lot like mine, he’s very outgoing, smiling, someone who wants to have fun,” Smith said. “I try to give my little brother lots of tips as far as just embracing life at Duke. That’s something that I really did.”

Cook’s confidence and ability to run the point will be tested early with matchups against Kentucky and Ohio State along with a loaded field in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

“I like Duke, but there’s some questions,” said ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, who said he would pick the Blue Devils to win the ACC. “They start in the backcourt at the point guard position.”

Consistent point play was lacking for Duke last year. Krzyzewski, though, feels Cook is the answer, thanks to a healthy knee and a full summer of work.

“Once he gets acclimated to playing with our big guys, he’s got a chance to establish a relationship on the court with Mason and Ryan,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s something, it’s not a system, it’s a relationship a point has with his key scorers. I see that kind of developing for us.”

Keeley: 919-829-4556

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