DeMatha's star point guard Quinn Cook finds sanctuary on the basketball court

By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 5, 2010; D05

Quinn Cook's basketball itinerary is nailed down. The DeMatha junior star guard does not need to look at a calendar to recite his plans that begin with Sunday's semifinals against St. John's in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference tournament. Then he will compete in the spring travel-team season, with games in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and North Carolina, among other places. Shortly after school concludes, he heads out to play on the USA Basketball under-17 national team.

Once he returns from trips to San Antonio, Lithuania and then the inaugural FIBA Under-17 World Championships in Germany, Cook plans to immediately rejoin his travel team, D.C. Assault.

"I want to say we get back from Germany around July 14, so I'll get to go to [Las] Vegas, West Virginia and L.A., hopefully," Cook said. "I don't have to, but I like playing with my team."

Less certain is where Cook, 16, will head after he graduates from DeMatha. The number of suitors vying for the 6-foot point guard's skills at the college level seems to be growing, with national powers such as Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina joining a list that also includes Maryland, Georgetown, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

"I have a pretty long list right now," Cook said, adding that he hopes to take an unofficial visit to Arizona later this month.

It didn't take long for Cook to excel on the basketball court. He first played on an organized team at age 3, according to his mother, Janet Cook. By age 5, Quinn said, he had an idea that he was better than his peers. By the time he was 9 he was playing on travel teams.

"He played baseball and football, too, he was just an athlete," Janet Cook said. "But his gift truly is basketball. That's where he finds his peace and joy."

Cook has a smooth jump shot, handles the ball well, can get to the basket and knows how to run a team. Exceptional poise is a key part of his game, whether it is on the fast break or in a half-court setting.

But no matter how well he does -- and so far this season, he's generally off the charts, averaging 19.8 points, 5.9 assists and 3.3 rebounds for a top-ranked, 27-3 team -- Cook copes with a void. The person he was closest to, whom he remembers before, during and after games, has not watched Cook play in person since his freshman year at the Hyattsville school.

Ted Cook, Quinn's father, died of cardiac arrest during an operation in March 2008 at age 48. Quinn said he still talks to his father every day. During pregame warmups, he wears a shirt commemorating Ted's life and he often has a framed photo of him and his father in his gym bag.

"I was about 12 years old and we're sitting on a pickup truck," Cook said. "I've got a basketball in my hand and he has his Lakers hat on."

Ted was his biggest fan and supporter, and when he passed away, DeMatha Coach Mike Jones worried how Quinn would fare without his father to lean on. Would he still be able to focus and excel at basketball?

"You never know how guys are going to react to something like that," said Jones, who was good friends with Ted Cook. "Are they going to shut down? Knowing the dad and Quinn for as long as I had and how close they were, it was definitely a fear.

"He's shouldered a big responsibility. I'm very proud of the way he's handled everything."

Quinn says he still talks to his father "upstairs," but he has also turned to teammates and used technology to chat with friends locally and around the country. With his cellphone and a desktop computer, Cook regularly chats with fans, former teammates and other top prospects on Twitter, Skype, Facebook and other social media. The photo on his Facebook profile is a grainy image of his father, wearing a large smile and a bright yellow Lakers sweatshirt.

And when he needs an escape, when he misses his father the most, Cook heads to the basketball court. That's where he went after learning his father had passed away, going to shoot baskets well past midnight with close friend Norman Pope, a guard at St. John's.

"The first thing Quinn said was, 'Let's get our heads away from it and go to the gym,' " Pope said. "That's what Ted always told us to do. That's our way out. . . . It had to have been at least a couple thousand shots [each]. We got in a lot of work that day."

When it gets warmer outside, Cook uses the full court in his Bowie back yard. His neighbors know what is going on if they hear the thump of a ball bouncing off the concrete late at night.

"I get in a whole new world when I'm on the court," Cook said. "I zone everything out. It's just my sanctuary."

Said Janet Cook, "I thank God for basketball. Because if it weren't for that, it would be much more difficult."

Cook says he is now "the man of the house" -- he has no brothers and an older sister, 19 -- and his outgoing nature occasionally comes out on the court. When it does, teammates know things are going well.

"When he's hot and on a roll, you can see that personality come out and see how much fun he is having," said forward Victor Oladipo, one of Cook's closer friends on the team.

Still, as much fun and success as he has had as a basketball player, Cook said he still gets "butterflies . . . and anxious to play."

"I look at it as a performance, you never know who's watching," Cook said. "You never know who's watching. It might be somebody who has heard great things about you and they finally get out to a game so you want to make a good impression.

"When the ball goes up, that's when the nerves go away and we're just playing basketball."

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