|Duke is expecting and needing a big year from sophomore point guard Quinn Cook. (US Presswire)|
DURHAM, N.C. -- Two years ago, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made the decision to stick with Quinn Cook. Myck Kabongo had de-committed from Texas a few days before and was contemplating whether to join Austin Rivers as a Blue Devils commit. However, Coach K and his staff had put in the time with Cook, then a point guard at Oak Hill Academy, and opted to take a verbal pledge from the D.C. native.
Many questioned the decision.
Then the 6-foot-1 floor leader showed up at in Durham less than a year later with a bum knee, first injured at an all-star game in August 2010 and aggravated during his senior season in high school. The medical staff shut him down. He wasn't allowed to do anything the summer before his freshman season and couldn't participate in the team's trip to China and Dubai. He then struggled out of the gate to play catch-up, had what he termed a "disappointing season," and the skeptics came out.
But Cook is healthy now. He feels as good as he has since his junior season in high school, before the knee injury that doctors initially diagnosed as a torn ACL and then determined was a torn meniscus.
"There were times I'd turn off my phone last year," Cook said. "It was a big disappointment for me last season. I couldn't provide what we needed."
Needed in Durham was a pure point guard that could run alongside Rivers, who has since departed for the NBA after one season at Duke. Cook played sparingly at the beginning of the season and had a few games in the middle of the season that provided optimism before struggling in a reserve role down the stretch.
"It was tough because I missed the entire summer and wasn't able to work on my game," Cook said. "It then became all mental."
That's not all that surprising. It's difficult enough to adjust to the college game for a freshman, but to do it after missing the entire preseason isn't easy. Mason Plumlee, the clear-cut leader and star of this year's Blue Devils squad, was posed the question of who is the X-factor of the team. The sensible answer was either Cook or redshirt freshman Alex Murphy, who is expected to start at small forward.
Plumlee didn't hesitate before providing the answer of Murphy. Cook was a given.
"To me, Quinn has solidified himself as the starting point guard," Plumlee said. "We know we can depend on Quinn. At his best, he sets up our team. He gets in the lane and makes plays. I wouldn't be shocked to see him get eight or nine assists and just one or two turnovers a game."
Cook was quizzing sports information director Matt Plizga on what he needs to break the school's single-game assist record. Bobby Hurley had 16 in 1993.
"I'm going to try my best," Cook said of breaking Hurley's mark.
Cook certainly looked improved from where he was a year ago in this past weekend's Countdown to Craziness scrimmage, but he was still erratic at times. Coach K has made it clear Cook is the guy who will have the ball in his hands. And while his teammates clearly have more confidence in him than was the case a year ago, he's still a question mark.
"I know I have something to prove," Cook said.
If he proves it, Duke has a chance to challenge for the ACC title. If not, it's difficult to imagine the Blue Devils hanging another banner.