Fresh off dropping 18 points and sinking the game-clinching free throws on day two of the NBA Combine in Chicago, Quinn Cook is back working out in his native Washington, DC. Sporting a blue Duke tee, grey cutoff sweats and a pair of Under Armour kicks, Cook starts at the left wing, shakes off a couple faux defenders and dances toward the left block, floating the rock off the Capitol building of a 2001 NBA All-Star sticker expertly placed on the backboard.
Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter II” bumps from a speaker near mid-court out of bounds as Cook’s childhood friends feed him the rock and grab rebounds. There’s a sense that if one were to hop in a time machine and go back several years, Cook would be doing the same drills, with the same people, listening to the same music in the same Columbia Heights Boys and Girls Club, a gym he said he’s been going to for nearly a decade now.
And if you live in the DMV, you’ve probably known about Cook’s game for close to that long. He was a local mini-celebrity by 2007, when he first stepped foot on campus at storied DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, MD.
“[The DMV] made me the player I am,” says the national champion and Duke graduate between sips from his Caribbean Way-flavored Smoothie King. “We definitely have a certain swagger to ourselves and confidence about ourselves, and all of us work hard, and all of us love the game.”
It’s no secret: the DC Metro area—like many other hoop hotbeds such as NYC, Chicago, L.A.—churns out ballplayers, and Cook is quick to acknowledge the abundance of talent he grew up watching and emulating. “I was that young kid who was always in the gym, always wanting to watch Tywon [Lawson], always wanting to watch Mike [Beasley], Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, Nolan Smith, Kevin Durant. I was that annoying kid who’s always by them, and who wanted to be just like them.”
Cook isn’t just name-dropping for the sake of name-dropping. After rattling off the aforementioned list of high-profile hoopers, he says he considers all of them big brothers and looks to them for motivation on a consistent basis. “I was fortunate to look up to a great group of guys, and that’s how I always wanted to represent myself—as a role model here, because I knew there was a young kid like me who was looking up to myself and the Victor Oladipos and the Kendall Marshalls and the Jerian Grants and players like that.”
No player has been a bigger inspiration, friend or mentor to Cook in his journey than god brother Nolan Smith. Cook, 22, and Smith, 26, both played for AAU juggernaut DC Assault, starred at famed Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, VA, and went on to wear number 2 at Duke. Their relationship is well-documented; they both lost their fathers at a young age, which drew them closer together as a result. According to Cook, Smith has been with him through every step of the NBA Draft process.
“The biggest thing he told me is just be yourself—you know, don’t try to prove teams wrong. Just do what got you here,” Cook says. When little bro struggled on day one of the Combine in May, big bro let him hear about it. “He was all over me…That’s how he is, he tells me what I need to hear—not what I want to hear.”
Cook is ready to join the long list of DMV prospects who made it to basketball’s biggest stage. Scouts project the 6-2 guard as a potential second-round pick, and since winning the national title in April, Cook has been preparing as much as humanly possible for the next level. He used that word—“prepare”—10 times during our sitdown at his agency, Tandem Sports, in Crystal City, VA.
Cook explains that preparation was the biggest thing Mike Krzyzewski taught him at Duke. “I think you should go into a game, go into a meeting, go into a test with confidence if you prepared—if you prepared the right way. And [Coach K] prepared every day. And there’s a reason he’s considered the best.”
In terms of preparing, Cook is in the thick of it right now: two-a-day workouts at the Boys and Girls Club plus an hour or two of lifting or running. “I get bored. And I don’t got video games, I don’t got really anything fun to do at my house, so it’s either I come [to my agency] or go work out again.”
His collegiate career ended in a chip, but there were points during Cook’s Duke years in which things weren’t all too rosy. One moment that marked an important turning point was after the Blue Devils lost to Mercer in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, when Krzyzewski met with Cook and told him he needed to “grow up,” as reported by Sports Illustrated. So Cook, the only returning starter for 2014-15, led with a “sense of urgency” beginning in the offseason by organizing grueling summer workouts.
Initially, Cook would be the first to the workouts and the last to leave. But when teammates began to take notice of Cook’s habit, their competitive natures took over, and soon every player wanted to stake his claim as the roster’s top gym rat. As the only senior on the 2014-15 Blue Devil roster, Cook was tasked with guiding the young guns to the promised land. And he did just that, simultaneously having far-and-away his best campaign as a Blue Devil.
From his freshman to senior season, Cook upped his scoring average from 4.4 to 15.3 and his three-point percentage from 25 percent to 40.1 percent. Not only did he help lead a starting lineup with three freshmen to Indianapolis for Duke’s fifth National Championship, but he also made the transition from point guard to shooting guard look effortless. With Tyus Jones running the 1, Cook’s spot-up opportunities increased, and became more of a scoring threat, finishing the season second on the team in scoring average behind possible No. 1 overall pick, Jahlil Okafor.
“For an NBA GM, you know, for me moving off the ball, it just shows that I trust the coach, I trust the decisions being made,” he says. Cook isn’t a freak athlete, but he’s got the ball on a string, and he’s got a knock-down jumper that can certainly help out an NBA squad. In fact, he’s so confident in his stroke that he believes he’s the best shooter in the entire Draft. “That’s how I feel … I put the work in and I put the time in, so I believe in myself,” he says.
More than anything, Cook makes it clear that he wants to do whatever it takes to help his team win. “I’m all about the team. Whatever they need me to do, I want to do—it’ll be better for the team. I just want to be a true professional. And you know I’m all about winning.”
With the type of work ethic Cook possesses, it’s fitting that he listens to Lil Wayne—a tireless worker in his own right—while he trains for the NBA Draft. These days, when he’s not listening to Weezy, it’s because he’s got Chicago emcee Lil Durk on repeat. Cook and Durk met three years ago through the latter’s recently deceased cousin, OTF Nunu.
“That kinda brought us together, brought us closer and just made sure we stood the course and tried to make it,” Cook says. “We’re two young guys who are trying to make our dreams come true.”
They now talk every other day over FaceTime or text.
“I’m his biggest fan, and he’s always watching my games, he’s always shouting me out after I have a good game … I’m fortunate to call him a brother.” June happens to be a life-changing month for both 22-year-olds: Durk released his debut album Remember My Name on June 2, and on June 25, Cook will hope to hear NBA commissioner Adam Silver call his name from the podium.
Although he reps OTF, Cook looks smack like J. Cole, who grew up in Fayetteville, NC, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Durham. Recently, Nolan Smith posted a video (it went viral) in which random girls at a North Carolina mall mistook Cook for Cole World.
“So these girls—they weren’t from the country—I don’t know where they were from…but they were like, ‘Who are y’all? Y’all famous or something?’ So Nolan’s like, ‘Yeah, he’s a rapper.’ I’m like ‘Oh, here he goes…’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah he’s a rapper, his name is J. Cole, and I’m his manager.’ So he pulls his phone out, and they just went for it, and I had to go along with it,” Cook says (for the record, Cook is NOT a Cole fan, and only knows the song he sang to aforementioned rando girls—the track “Apparently.”)
Cook mentions that his former teammate, Okafor—likely to go No. 1 to the T-Wolves or No. 2 to the Lakers—texted him a bunch of emojis following the Draft lottery on May 19. Prayer hands. Smiley faces. Maybe even a few one hundreds for good measure. In two weeks’ time, when the Draft is over, Cook is hoping he can return the favor upon hearing good news from the Commish at Barclays. Until then, he’ll be steady preparing.
All photos by Bob Youngentob