By Nate Thompson
Instead of skying high for rebounds in traffic or elevating for silky smooth jump shots, Cook was doing twists and flips in competitive cheer as a child.
“I had fun with it,” said Cook, an All-State senior point guard for the Muskegon girls’ basketball team. “I could jump so high, so they wanted me in the front row to do all the jumps. My team was Cheer America.”
Now, more than eight years later, Cook’s leaping ability hasn’t changed. In fact, the 6-foot senior has been videotaped dunking inside Redmond-Potter Gymnasium at Muskegon High School.
“I’ve done it twice, but I haven’t done it in an actual game,” Cook said. “We’d have to be up by a lot. And I’d have to be really feeling it (in my legs).”
Cook’s stint in competitive cheer ended when she discovered that the fundamental skills of basketball came naturally to her as a seventh grader.
“That’s when I knew the game was something special for me,” she said. “No one had really trained me before, but when someone would show me something, I could pick it up pretty quick. I loved the game because it came so easy.”
It’s still coming easy for Cook, the daughter of Sabrina Ware and Mardrekus Cook. The Big Reds’ senior is capping a stellar four-year varsity career in tremendous fashion, and is well on her way at repeating as a Class A All-State honoree.
She’s currently averaging 22.1 points, 13.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 2.9 steals per game for the 16-4 Big Reds. Cook’s stat line includes four triple-doubles and two rare quadruple-doubles, both coming against against Kenowa Hills.
What has been somewhat astonishing, he said, is the poise Cook has shown in handling the point guard role for the Big Reds, after having been primarily a post player during her three previous varsity seasons.
“I always thought the best thing for her was making her a point guard and getting the ball in her hands,” Walker said. “She has such a high basketball IQ that it’s natural for her at making others around her better. She’s been asked to do a lot of other things on the court this year, and she’s really adapted well.”
Although he may be biased, Walker said his choice for Miss Basketball – awarded to the best senior girls basketball player in the state – should be crystal clear.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “As talented as she is, she’s a player that strives to be as unselfish as possible. The way she’s set up, she could average over 50 points a game. But she’s not about that. She wants all the players on her team to contribute and share the wealth.
“It’s a trait that has made several Division 1 college coaches strong believers in Cook’s potential.
She said she noticed University of Michigan women’s head coach Kim Barnes Arico smiling at her a lot while she played in an AAU tournament with the Grand Rapids Battlecats after her freshman season.
“But I didn’t really know a whole lot about recruiting then,” Cook admitted.
That changed a year later when she began to dominate on the AAU circuit.
“Before one game, there was maybe two coaches watching, then I had a couple big games, and then there were like 40 coaches,” she said. “It kind of blew up.”
Like the rest of the Big Ten Conference, Michigan was interested in Cook’s services. Cook visited Barnes Arico in Ann Arbor in mid-June prior to her junior season, but two days later, she discovered her future college home in at Michigan State University.
“They took me all around the school and I got to meet all the players and a lot of other athletes,” she said. “Then, they brought me into Tom Izzo’s office. He said ‘You must be really special because they never do that with other recruits.”
Cook said the family atmosphere at MSU, her bond with the players, and her relationship with head coach Suzie Merchant sold her on the Spartans. Cook made it official by signing a national letter-of-intent on Nov. 11, 2015.
The Spartans will be adding a five-star prospect in Cook. She’s currently ranked 37th on ESPNW’s list of the best high school seniors in the nation.
She’s following in the footsteps of another highly-ranked Muskegon Big Red, Deyonta Davis, who is a freshman on the MSU mens’ squad after winning the boys Mr. Basketball Award last season.
“It just shows that Muskegon is on the map, and we’re coming up,” said Cook, who plans on majoring in sports administration at MSU.
Davis isn’t the only former Big Red that Cook idolizes. Her uncle, 2014 Muskegon grad DeShaun Thrower, has been a consistent source of inspiration and a coach from afar.
Thrower, who won the Mr. Basketball Award the year before Davis did, is a sophomore guard at Division 1 Stony Brook University in New York.
“He’s worked with me plenty of times this past summer and he’ll still call me every now and then to see how my season’s going,” Cook said.
Cook would like nothing more than to wrap up her high school career like Thrower did – as a state champion.
Before that goal comes into focus, the Big Reds will have to fight through a tough district tournament next week that includes rivals Mona Shores, Reeths-Puffer and Grand Haven.
“We’ve got a lot of players that can put the ball in the basket,” Walker said. “I feel like we just have to come with the energy defensively. That will carry us.”
“We just have to be more focused, everyone on the same page,” Cook added. “If everyone is focused on what we need to do, it will fall into place.”