Mayor Vincent C. Gray and his aides had just left their front-row, midcourt seats for a luxury box at the City Title Game earlier this month when another prominent Washingtonian with a security detail moved into the prime spots at Verizon Center.
“It was cool, but I never get excited over that stuff because I want that to be me someday,” said Cook, who last year became the first junior in 30 years to be named boys’ basketball All-Met Player of the Year before transferring to Oak Hill Academy during the summer. “I want security to be sitting next to me and my little brother someday.”
Cook left the Washington area for his final year of high school in part to escape the spotlight. But he can’t help but find it. He will play in the McDonald’s all-American game on Wednesday night in Chicago, then fly to Washington 12 hours later as Oak Hill (27-3) completes its season with the National High School Invitational tournament that begins Thursday at Georgetown Prep.
When he comes home from Oak Hill — located in Mouth of Wilson, some 360 miles away in rural southwestern Virginia — he said the two people he is most likely to hang out with are Wall, the 20-year-old who spent one season at the University of Kentucky then became the top overall draft pick, or Upper Marlboro native Nolan Smith, who was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year this season at Duke.
On that Monday earlier this month, Cook said he and Wall went to a Bowie gymnasium to work out, then decided to go watch Cook’s former team. The two became friends, Cook said, after they played against each other three years ago.
Sitting in the stands at Verizon Center, Cook could not help but think about what might have been had he remained at DeMatha to finish his high school career.
“I definitely have thought about what if I had stayed at DeMatha, how crazy would it have been, trying to get the three-peat and all the player of the year awards,” Cook said, adding that he had goose bumps as DeMatha beat Theodore Roosevelt for its third consecutive City Title. “I definitely wanted to see how that would be. But I think I made the best decision in the long run.”
Said DeMatha Coach Mike Jones: “He’s definitely done very well in the classroom and done very well on the court and because of their schedule, he’s been able to come home a lot and see his friends and enjoy all that he’s missed by being away.”
This season has gone as well as he had hoped, Cook said. He recovered from a summertime right knee injury and was cleared to play by the end of October, then signed a national letter-of-intent to play for Duke.
The injury has yet to completely heal, taking extra time to warm up and requiring plenty of postgame ice bags, but Cook averaged 20.1 points and 10.5 assists.
“I’ve never been in the gym this much,” Cook said. “I felt I missed two months [because of the knee injury] so I had to put in extra. It became a habit. I definitely feel I’ve become a better basketball player here.”
Being so far removed helped, Cook said. He and teammate Keith Hornsby — the son of Grammy Award-winning musician Bruce Hornsby — regularly were in the gym at 6:30 in the morning to work out before school started. At night, quiet time in the dorms begins at 8:30 and after 9:30 students are not allowed out of their rooms, which are not equipped with televisions or telephones.
“It’s very boring, nothing to do, I’m always in the gym honestly,” Cook said, acknowledging he previously never was known as a morning person. “I get up in the morning and go work out. I go to school, eat dinner and get back in the gym. It’s definitely helped me on the court and off the court.
“My mom, she’s happy that I’m away. It’s like an extra year of college, for real. I’m living on my own. Got to do my own laundry. I have to cook for myself. I’m not the center of attention. I’m a regular student. I love it.”