Mike Krzyzewski knew before the season started he wanted Quinn Cook to be his starting point guard.
But after two exhibition games, he and the rest of the Duke coaching staff didnt like what they saw. So, they sent Cook a message.
He was relegated to the bench.
Weve been hard on Quinn, assistant coach Jeff Capel said. But its because we see something in him.
Cook responded to the challenge and has played his way back into the starting lineup. The sophomore is expected to lead No. 5 Duke (3-0) against Minnesota (4-0) Thursday in the Blue Devils first game in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
After earning the starting nod before preseason practice began, Cook, a sophomore, posted more turnovers (nine) than assists (four) in exhibition games against Western Washington and Winston-Salem State. In fact, Cook led the team in turnovers on both nights.
As a result, junior Tyler Thornton started at the point against Georgia State and Kentucky.
Most of Cooks miscues came as a result of sloppy passes and unnecessary attempts at flashy plays. Cook had a knack for highlight-worthy passes back in high school, when he was a highly coveted four-star recruit.
To his credit, though, it didnt take long to realize that style wouldnt work if he wanted to run the offense at Duke.
Those two games I didnt start were an eye opener, Cook said. I realized I have to stay sharp at all times.
During the stretch he didnt start, Cook didnt hang his head. Instead, he met with Krzyzewski and Capel a few times, heeding their advice to tighten up his passes and on-ball defense. And he was able to relax on the floor, concentrating less on not making mistakes and more on just playing his (modified) game.
I got in there and just wanted to push the tempo, he said.
And thats exactly what Cook was able to do in Dukes 75-68 win against Kentucky. After the game, Krzyzewski credited him with jump-starting the team in the first half. His up-tempo approach opened up teammates for 3-pointers or gave Duke opportunities at the free throw line.
Cook was able to continue where he left off last Sunday against Florida Gulf Coast. He tied his career high with nine assists, and, though he posted five turnovers, Capel said some of those were a result of teammates not catching good passes.
Hes gotten sharper, hes gotten better, Capel said. He learned. And thats the important thing, hes been willing to change. To become a better player, you have to be willing to change. And its constant change because youre trying to get better, you cant be the same.
The challenge now for Cook is to keep building on his success. Duke has three games in the next three days. And Cook cant wait.
Oh yes, he said. Im definitely excited.
• Recruits very good shooters: While the Blue Devils were on Paradise Island getting ready for the Battle 4 Atlantis, Duke announced that 2013 recruits Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones. Ojeleye is a 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward from Ottawa Kan., while Jones is a 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard hailing from DeSoto, Texas. Both are ranked as top 45 recruits by Rivals, Scout and ESPN.
Both of them are very good shooters and skilled players that will fit into the Duke system and culture very well, Krzyzewski said in a statement. They have bright futures in our program, and we look forward to watching them develop on and off the court.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley