His 24th birthday but a few days away, Quinn Cook knows the clock is ticking on his NBA dream.
He remains as determined as ever to make it. There will be no shortcuts, no sidetracks.
“I’m going to be in the NBA,” Cook, who turns 24 on Thursday, said without hesitation. “The NBA.”
The former Duke guard’s perseverance offered him another NBA opportunity on Sunday, when he joined the New Orleans Pelicans on a 10-day contract. He had been in training camp with the team last fall and the positive impression he left caused the team to give him another look.
The former Duke guard was also in the NBA earlier this month. He played five games for the Dallas Mavericks after they signed him to a 10-day contract.
But after scoring 10 points in a 122-111 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on March 7, Cook’s contract expired and the Mavericks sent him back to the NBA Development League’s Canton Charge.
The Charge brought him to North Carolina on Thursday to face the Greensboro Swarm at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex’s Fieldhouse, where a crowd of 1,368 attended.
When Cook played for Duke from 2011-15, the Blue Devils played at least one game per season across the parking lot at the larger Coliseum in front of crowds numbering 22,000 or so.
But Cook isn’t deterred by the humble surroundings. He continues to let his dream live as he fights to attain it.
“I’m still playing the game I love every day for a living so it’s cool,” Cook said. “I learned a lot in those 10 days. I got a lot of NBA experience. My confidence is at an all-time high right now.”
Cook has certainly proven his worth in the D-League, where he landed with Canton after going undrafted in 2015.
This season, he’s averaged 26 points and nearly seven assists per game. In the D-League All-Star Game last month, Cook was named Most Valuable Player after compiling 18 points and 12 assists.
“He hasn’t let the disappointment set him back from what he’s doing in the D-League,” said Nolan Smith, Cook’s longtime friend, a former Duke All-American guard and a current Blue Devils special assistant coach. “He is playing at a high level.”
Smith, a first-round NBA pick by Portland in 2011 following his Duke career, continues to counsel Cook. When he got the call that he was going to Dallas, Cook called his mother, sister, and grandmother then Smith, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel.
“Those six have been with me since I left (Duke),” Cook said. “They understood I’ve been chasing my dream. They’ve been helping me so much.”
The D-League offers few luxuries. Annual salaries are in the $25,000 range although some incentives can push that number as high as $40,000. Players are provided housing, where they share apartments with teammates.
Smith said he’s received calls from overseas teams inquiring about Cook’s availability. He could make far more money playing in Europe, for example. But he fears that could damage his chances to make the NBA, so he stays riding buses in the NBA’s minor league.
“He knows and believes that he is an NBA player,” Smith said. “It’s his choice to stay here and continue to work and to chase after that. He feels like if he goes overseas he might get lost a little bit. People might forget about him. He feels like there is a better opportunity for him to be seen on a nightly basis.”
On Thursday, Cook’s journey brought him back in contact with an old friend. Rasheed Sulaimon is a rookie guard with the Greensboro Swarm. Cook and Sulaimon were Duke teammates for nearly three seasons before Sulaimon was kicked off the team in January 2015 for what Krzyzewski called a failure to live up to team standards.
That hasn’t stopped Cook and Sulaimon from remaining close friends. Sulaimon was thrilled when Cook got his NBA shot.
“Quinn was one of the guys when I was at Duke that helped me get acclimated, one of the many guys that showed me the ropes,” Sulaimon said. “We formed a brotherhood. Even though I didn’t finish there, that brotherhood stays tight. We created a lifetime friendship.
“Quinn is a guy who always works hard. He’s a great player. He’s doing some incredible things. I’m glad he finally got his shot and I’m sure this is the first of many to come.”
It’s proven unwise to doubt Cook’s determination.
Heading into his senior season at Duke, Cook had yet to be part of a team that won an ACC championship or reached a Final Four but he dreamed of helping raise a banner at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
That dream was fulfilled partly because Cook yielded point guard duties to freshman Tyus Jones. Together they were the starting backcourt on Duke’s fifth NCAA championship team. Cook finished his career at Duke with 1,571 points.
Cook had one assist in one minute played Sunday in his debut with New Orleans in the Pelicans’ 123-109 win over Minnesota.
Smith is quick to point out that Dallas went 4-1 in the five games with Cook playing. That winning pedigree is important.
“He was a champion at Duke and he needs to keep that attitude going forward,” Smith said. “Sometimes in the D League guys get caught up in scoring. He needs to keep being the winner that he is.”
Cook played 15.4 minutes per game with Dallas, averaging 5.4 points and 2.4 assists. He played against top guards like Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Memphis’ Mike Conley.
He learned something important.
“That I belonged,” Cook said.
One of his Dallas teammates was another old friend, former Duke guard Seth Curry. After spending parts of two seasons in the D League, Curry finally stuck with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings in 2015 at age 25.
In July 2016, he signed a two-year, $6 million contract with Dallas.
His story gives Cook hope.
“Seth is a great guy for me to look at what he did -- two years in the D League undrafted,” Cook said. “People were telling him to go overseas and he believed in himself, kept betting on himself and he’s showing the world that he’s a helluva player.”
Smith said his talks with NBA people told him that Cook impressed during his team with Dallas.
Smith’s message to Cook is direct: “Your time is gonna come.”
Cook is a true believer.