SLAM caught up with college star turned cautionary tale, Omar Cook.
Omar Cook is a name that most fans remember as a freshman phenom who rocked his hometown school St. Johns for a season, and then bolted the Queens school for the NBA. In that single season for the Johnnies, Cook astonished onlookers with his lightning quick dribbling abilities, above average basketball IQ, and a flair for the dramatic.
On the surface his per game numbers of 15.3 points and 8.7 assists were exceptional for the electrifying lead guard. To this day he still holds the all-time record for assists per game and total assists ever for a freshman.
Dig a little deeper underneath those gaudy numbers, though, and there was much to be desired as far as his NBA prospects were concerned. Cook shot 30.9 percent from the 3-point line and 36 percent overall, and tormented scouts in the process. After all, a point guard without a reliable jumper is cause for concern.
As the tale goes, Cook was drafted in the 2nd round (31st overall) by the Orlando Magic and bounced around the D-League for a while. Eventually the former Johnny product realized that he had other options…
SLAM: Omar your basketball career has been an interesting one. At St. Johns you had a great first year and you decided to leave early to go to the NBA. A lot of people believe that you left too early. What would you say to these people? Why did you decide to do go early anyway?
OMAR COOK: I felt I took the right steps when I decided to leave early. I didn’t hire a agent. I went to the predraft camps. And I played very well. There weren’t many PG coming out that year. And I feel the NBA needed point guards at the time which I still feel they need now. True point guards. That’s what I am. So that’s why I decided to enter the Draft.
SLAM: A lot of freshman will make the decision to go pro every year. What advice would you give to a college freshman who was thinking about leaving early and was a borderline pick?
OC: At the end of the day the only one who has to deal with what you decide to do is you. Everyone will have something to say, but only you will have to deal directly with the outcome. It’s never a right or wrong choice because you don’t know what actually will happen until Draft night.
SLAM: After you were drafted third in the second round by the Orlando Magic, you had brief stints with the Toronto Raptors and the Portland Trailblazers. What were these experiences like for you?
OC: It was very hard to deal with trying to make a team, to never have a full contract because for me I was always looking over my shoulder. I never went to a team with a clear head, just free where my play could speak for itself. It was always something that was in the way besides basketball. So I never really got to show the true Omar Cook that everyone had grown to love watch play.
SLAM: Since you were a kid, I am sure that your goal was to play in the NBA. When and why did you realize that the best thing for you to do was to go overseas and earn a living over here?
OC: At first I didn’t want to come overseas at all. I was still young when I decided to come overseas. But after being cut over and over and over again I was just tired of the disappointment of feeling like I’m good enough to be in the NBA, but not finding the right fit for me. I was fed up with it. So I decided to take a chance not knowing what to expect.
SLAM: Describe your experiences playing in Europe for Dexie Mons, CSKA Samara, Estrella Roja de Belgrado, and now finally Unicaja. After trying to make the NBA a lot of players would not be happy going to so many foreign countries. What has motivated you along the whole way?
OC: My first place was Dexie Mons. It was a very quiet small town. But they loved basketball. I got a chance to be myself and just play and they took a liking to me right away. I played very hard and I hate to lose. They love that. Wasn’t much money. But it was more in one year than I made in four years playing in the NBDL. So it worked for me. We did things the year I was there they haven’t done ever. So that was great for me. CSKA Samara was OK. Lot of the Russian teams had a lot of money. I was on one of the mid to lower teams there. Very dark city. I played good in Belgium. But Belgium is not considered one of the tougher leagues in Europe. So I still had to work my way up. Samara was OK but not one of my better years in Europe. Now Red Star was great for me. That summer I didn’t have much interest from many teams. So I was very bitter when I went there. I was on a mission. Was the 1st time I wasn’t in a country alone because my girlfriend was pregnant and she decided 2 join me and come to Belgrade with me. I don’t know if it was my play or me deciding to have my first child in Serbia, but the people loved me there. They are die hard fans there. They love their clubs (teams). After playing there I was given the choice to play for the Montenegrin National Team and become a European Citizen, which is great to have being a American who plays European basketball. Now I’m in my End season with Unicaja. I play in the ACB and the Euro league. Which are considered the best basketball after the NBA. So I’m thankful to be playing on such a high level, but also making a great living over here. It’s hard to make the choice to come play overseas. But I’ve worked my way up to the top over here. So for me I’m in a great space right now. So that has helped me to stick with it.
SLAM: You are 28. What goals do you still have left to accomplish? Do you plan on staying in Europe for the rest of your career or would you love to get back to America to play in the NBA?
OC: I just want to be the best Omar Cook I can be. Europe is great. Coming back to the NBA would be good. It would make my family happy because they will be able to watch me play. But as I explain to them, I don’t want to go back to the NBA just to say I’m in the NBA. I want to play. At least have the opportunity to have a chance to play. To turn down the money I make over here to come back to the NBA for less money to sit on someone’s bench will not make me happy. For me to come back it has to make sense. Until then I’m happy over here
SLAM: There is life after basketball. What do you plan on doing when you cannot compete on the court anymore? Do you have anything specific that you know you want to do when you’re playing career is finished?
OC: I don’t know what I want to do just yet. My goal is to save enough to where I don’t have to do much unless I choose to do something. Maybe own a business or do something that involves sports. Just want to be able to relax with my family when I’m done.