Cook focusing on finishing strong

The Blue Devils senior point guard is focused on leading a talented team to a national championship.

Coming off a sophomore season in which he averaged nearly 12 points and more than five assists per game as the starting point guard, Quinn Cook was primed for a breakout year in 2013. However, it did not go according to plan for Cook or the Blue Devils.

Cook came out strong to start the season, but following a loss at Clemson, he saw his playing time (and consequently production) shrink. Compare the before and after per game averages, with the first 16 games up to and including the Clemson loss, and the last 19 games of the season.

  • First 16 games: 13.6 points, 6.2 assists, 35.6 minutes
  • Last 19 games: 9.9 points, 2.9 assists, 24.8 minutes

Duke struggled down the stretch as a team, going 5-4 in its last nine games, including a shocking loss to Mercer in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“Starting every game my sophomore year and coming off the bench last year has been my motivation,” Cook said. “Losing to Mercer has been my motivation all summer. It’s my last go, so make the most of it.”

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in his postseason press conference that Tyler Thornton played more than Cook and took the starting point guard spot despite having less talent because of his ability to lead.

“He (Thornton) was a senior and a veteran,” Cook said. “He gave our team what we needed. I struggled at times and coach was going to go with who was playing better at the time.

“My confidence wasn’t where it needed to be. I had never been through a slump like that. It was a new experience for me. I started making excuses. It’s my last year now, and it’s do or die for me. I want to leave as a champion.”

Cook has taken on the veteran role as the only senior on the team with significant playing experience. He says he learned from the players before him that the best way to lead is through his actions.

“Three that stick out are Seth (Curry), Ryan (Kelly), and Mason (Plumlee),” Cook said. “Seth barely talked. He’s a very quiet guy. That’s just his demeanor, but he was loud on the court. He led by example.”

Former Duke point guard Nolan Smith also showed Cook how to be a “big brother” to the young players away from the court.

“I can remember being down here on visits and just seeing Nolan with the freshmen, showing them around, being the driver,” Cook said. “Freshmen are blind. They’re in a new area. I want to be there for my young guys.”

One freshman that has already formed a strong bond with Cook is fellow point guard Tyus Jones.

“I’ve known him (Jones) a couple years now,” Cook said. “I was sending him little messages to come to Duke. It’s great to have another guard on the team.

“He’s very willing to learn. He’s all ears. He asks me so many questions during workouts and practices. He looks up to me.”

Jones ranked as Scout’s second best point guard prospect and ninth best overall player in the class of 2014, and he will challenge for a spot in the starting lineup. While Cook and Jones have been competitive playing against each other, Cook sees how formidable the two can be together as a backcourt duo.

“It’s a good relationship that we have,” Cook said. “One thing that I made sure I didn’t want to make it out as is me against Tyus or Tyus against me the whole time because we can be playing together. That’s not going to be healthy for our relationship and our team.”

The sky is the limit for this Blue Devils team with a great recruiting class featuring Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Grayson Allen joining upperclassmen like Cook, Amile Jefferson, and Rasheed Sulaimon.

“I think we have the talent to be very good, but last year we had one of the most talented teams in the country,” Cook said. “It shows talent isn’t going to win the whole thing. I think it’s the team that’s most together and the most hungry.”

Duke has been using that hunger to drive them through a new offseason training regimen. In 2011-12, the team practiced more in the offseason due to early season exhibition games in China and Dubai. The Blue Devils ran more during the 2012-13 offseason, while the next year the team relied more on swimming and bike workouts.

It could just be coincidence, but the two years Duke got away from running, the team fell in its first NCAA Tournament games. Cook says they are “going old school” and doing more traditional running workouts.

“I think we kind of got away from the Duke ways, the hard things that will make the battle easier,” Cook said. “We’ve been running four times a week. It’s been rough but I think guys are getting in better shape.”

Cook says the motivation from the end of last season will push him to a stronger finish as a senior. He has no individual goals set. There is only one thing he wants.

“Just win the national championship,” Cook said. “If I play 40 minutes or if I play two, if we win the national championship, I’m fine.

“Losing, it stinks. Whatever it takes for us to win, I’m all in. It’s my last year. I want to leave here as a champion.”