When people talk about the 2013-14 Duke basketball team, the first names to come up are Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.
In fact, you would have to scroll through a handful of Blue Devils before getting to point guard Quinn Cook if they were ranked by perceived order of importance.
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While Cook may not be bound for the NBA lottery like his teammates Parker and Hood, he has the opportunity to shape his legacy in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
There is a realistic chance that Cook will get lost in the shuffle in Durham next year with highly touted point guard Tyus Jones arriving as a freshman. The rest of the backcourt will be made up of Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Rasheed Sulaimon, plus Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor will dominate the ball for stretches on the wings and in the lane.
That’s not even mentioning the fact that Parker and Hood could very well come back as the focal points of the offense.
Even if Duke was to make a run at the NCAA title next season with that loaded team, Cook probably wouldn’t be playing a major role with Jones serving as the floor general of all that talent.
That is why Cook needs to seize the moment now in his first Big Dance as an upperclassman.
Inconsistency has plagued Cook’s three years in Durham thus far, with flashes of brilliance being accompanied by frustrating performances the very next game.
That inconsistency was on full display in the last four games. Cook scored 11 points and dished out six assists against North Carolina, disappeared against Clemson and only scored five points, hit four of five shots from the field and scored 14 critical points against North Carolina State and then scored five points on 2-of-6 shooting in the ACC championship game against Virginia.
What’s more, he forced the issue far too often against the Cavaliers down the stretch.
You can make the argument that Cook has almost disappointed given the lofty standards that were in place when he arrived as a 4-star point guard from Oak Hill Academy who drew interest from the likes of Arizona, Connecticut, Georgetown and Indiana, per 247Sports.
To his credit, though, he averaged 11.3 points and 4.4 assists per game this year while limiting his turnovers to 1.6 a night. The assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 3-to-1 is the best part about his junior season given the importance of maintaining possession with offensive talents like Parker and Hood on the wings.
Cook played some of the best basketball of his career in the early portion of the schedule and even scored in double figures 11 times in a 12-game stretch from Nov. 18 to Jan. 7. He torched Michigan, which just happens to be the No. 2 seed in Duke’s region in the NCAA tournament, for 24 points and nine assists and connected on all 10 of his free throws in that game.
However, Cook’s productivity dropped in ACC play, and he even lost playing time at the point guard spot to Sulaimon, which helped Duke regain its footing after losing two of its first three conference games.
Perimeter defense has always been an issue with Cook, although David Aldridge pointed out he was effective in small doses in the ACC tournament on that end:
Fortunately for Cook, the NCAA tournament gives college basketball players the ultimate clean slate and is an event where lasting legacies are formed. Cook seems ready to prove himself, telling Steve Wiseman of The Herald-Sun:
“Guys that were on the team last year, we saw Louisville celebrate and go to the Final Four. Guys have a bitter taste in their mouths. We have to play with a sense of urgency.”
Cook doesn’t have to be the star for the Blue Devils in March (and it’s better for the team if he doesn’t attempt to go down that route), but he can go down in Duke lore if he plays something of an X-factor role in a run to the Final Four.
If he minimizes his turnovers, makes timely shots when called upon, sets up Parker and Hood in ideal scoring situations and plays competent defense, Cook will be an important part of Duke’s March success.
The most critical part of Cook’s NCAA tournament is whether his team wins, but he needs to play a significant role in doing so if he wants to leave behind a legacy.
Regardless of whether he gets lost in the shuffle next year, if Cook is an X-factor on a 2014 Final Four team, he will be remembered fondly in Durham.
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