Stick to the Script: Quinn Cook

The basketball journey of Quinn Cook has been recently celebrated as a story of perseverance and NBA championship success. A year ago, when Cook signed with the New Orleans Pelicans, I had planned to write a story on him. He was waived later that summer and I never interviewed him. Fast forward to this summer and the interview finally took place. I discovered that we had a lot more in common than I had ever known.

Quinn Cook lost his father 10 years ago, and upon learning that, my heart dropped, my mind raced, and I immediately thought of my own loss, and how I have had to deal with the aftermath. Cook has fought through the mental, emotional and physical loss. In spite of things, he stayed on track, winning a championship in both college and the pros. He’s stayed loyal, passing on the knowledge and wisdom, much like those before him, making himself available to help others through his example, time and resources.

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Do you remember the first NBA game you attended?

Ummm, I don’t remember it specifically, but it had to be a Wizards game.

Okay, so they weren’t the Washington Bullets…they were the Wizards?

No, no, they were the Wizards with Rod Strickland.

That’s crazy because you were just working out with Rod Strickland.

Yeah.

It’s like you’ve come full circle. Now of course you’re in the League and you were working out, but…

No, no, no…that’s how I am that whole time, and he knows you know that he’s like an idol to me. I went to elementary school with [Strickland’s] daughter, and I used to always ask her [if] I can meet her dad. I finally met him when I was like 6 or 7. We’ve always had a good relationship. He recruited me a little bit when he was [an assistant] at Kentucky, so we’ve always had a good relationship.

You were 6 and 7 years old you wanted to meet him. So you loved basketball at a young age?

Yup, for sure!

Your story has been well documented, I just want to talk about one part, can you tell me what DeMatha Catholic has meant in terms of a foundation for your career?

First of all it taught me good habits, and they have so many players coming in and out—going high Division 1, going to the NBA—so I wanted to be like those guys. I saw the guys who were upperclassmen and I saw them work and reap the benefits of getting scholarships and I wanted the same thing. We have a great coaching staff and coach [Mike] Jones holds you accountable if you don’t do your work, if you don’t have good grades, mess up in study hall—anything like that, you’re going to get punished. I thought at a young age—14-years old—that taught me a lot, and my three years there [Ed note: Cook finished his final year of high school at Oak Hill Academy] I learned so much.

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It reminds me of Duke. You have a brotherhood and y’all don’t talk about it, it’s just known.

Yes, it’s just understood, and I think the biggest thing that I’ve always appreciated DeMatha is that we root for each other—you know, it can be from afar, it could be somebody that you don’t know. I’ve ran into so many people who have graduated from DeMatha and they just always rooted for me because I went to DeMatha and that says a lot about the program, about the honor and the pride that we have.

Let’s fast forward a little bit to 2015, take me through draft night and what that was like for you and your family?

That day…it was a long day. I had two of my best friends with me, Nolan and my other best friend Norman, and we went to an amusement park that day, we went to Six Flags to make the day go by faster. Well, we worked out first, then Six Flags and then I went to my agency just to talk to my agent. Then I went to my apartment and that’s when the draft was starting. I watched to see [Duke teammate] Jahlil [Okafor] get drafted and I felt pretty confident that day. I think the last mock draft—which don’t mean anything—they had me going at 27th or 28th [overall], and I had a couple of teams tell me that if I was available in the second round, that I would be picked. So I’m just thinking that I’ll be an early second round/mid-second round pick, but when I saw that mock draft that had me going at like 27th, I knew that I was going to get drafted, and that made the draft go a little bit faster. When that first round ended, I got a little nervous. I had some people over at my mom’s apartment, in the main area, in the lobby, so when the second round came, I went upstairs to our apartment actually, and it was just me and Nolan and we were just waiting.

Nolan Smith, former player at Duke?

Yup! And we were just waiting and when [the draft] got into the 50s, I went downstairs and watched the end with everybody. I thanked everybody for coming and then I went outside into my friend’s car and I cried for a little bit and then I got the call that I would be playing Summer League with Oklahoma City.

Now, how did watching the draft with Nolan Smith help you?

Well, he’s been there with me for all of my big moments, so to have him there was good. He was just telling me to stay positive through it. Our journeys are different. He didn’t have to wait as long, but he still had to wait to hear his name. He had to wait 20-picks [Ed note: Nolan Smith was the 21st pick in the 2011 draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. Smith is currently the director of basketball operations for Duke] and he’s just telling me to stay positive man and whatever happens, happens. But at that time, you’re not thinking positively. You just want to selfishly have your dream come true. But to have him there…I needed him there that day because I probably would have done something crazy, broke a TV or something, so he was kinda keeping me calm.

What did playing for the G League’s Canton Charge do for you as your professional career began?

It took my game to another level, [developing] my confidence. At Duke, I wasn’t able to score like I did in high school, just because we had so many great players, and I had to accept a role, which I was fine with, but it gave people another look at my game. I know I was able to score. I got a lot of confidence from training camp with Cleveland [Cavaliers], competing at a high level, having some success at camp and being familiar with the system. I was fortunate to be in a great situation in Canton, be the leader of the team my rookie year. I got to show a lot of people that I was an NBA player on a nightly basis.

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How did playing in Canton, Ohio, relate to you personally?

It was surreal man, and at the time I didn’t think of it, but in the middle of the year, I was happy I was there. After my dad passed, that side of the family…I didn’t get to keep in touch or really see them From playing at DeMatha [Catholic] and playing AAU, you don’t have time to make every family reunion or every family event, so I haven’t seen that side of my family for about four or five years. I got to spend Thanksgiving with them, Christmas, they came to every game—I needed that at that time because I didn’t really want to be in the G League, to be honest with you, but I had to make a sacrifice for my career. Just to have my family there was…I don’t think I would have had the success without them and I think God put me there to get closer to that side, so I was happy that I went that route and I got closer with my family as well.

Ten-day contracts are celebrated as big success stories. Can you talk about what it’s like to have a 10-day contract?

My first 10-day contract in Dallas. It was long because we had five games in 10 days. Players get called up on a 10-day and their team might only have a schedule of three games. So I got to play in five games and I was fortunate for that. For me, I was taking it every day, I wanted to win every day, I wanted to show them every day that I was an NBA player—from shooting the ball in practice, to being there early or forming relationships—everything in my power I tried to do. I thought Dallas gave me a great opportunity and I’ll always be thankful for that. We went 4-1 in that span that I was there and I was very proud of that, to really contribute at the NBA level and come out with wins, it really felt good.

How did you maintain your confidence?

I received a lot of love from NBA players. LeBron [James] shouted me out on Twitter, KD used to watch me on Facebook Live when I was in the G League and keep up with my stats—he’s one of the best, if not the best player in the world—little stuff like that helped me and helped to keep me confident and motivated toward my dreams.

KD is now your teammate but he is more like your brother—is that correct?

He’s a brother. We call each other brother. I’m his little brother, he’s my big brother—that’s how we talk to each other.

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Can you describe being on the Warriors with Durant and winning the chip together?

No. It’s something that we’ve always talked about it. Obviously not winning a championship [together, but] we always talked about being in the NBA. I never thought that we would be on the same team and win a championship together. That was always our conversation: Going to the NBA. He’s been there with me forever and he still helps me as well. It’s a dream come true for both of us.

You’re from Maryland and you grew up with a lot of NBA players. Did you look up to anyone growing up?

Of course I did. You have guys like Nolan [Smith], you have Mike Beasley, KD, Nigel Munson, Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Jarrett Jack. I can go on…Ty Lawson—I can go on and on and on. I think that’s what makes our area so special—they gave back. They were stars of their team and stars in our community, but anybody who was an upcoming basketball player, they gave back. They made sure that they gave us advice. We all want to see each other become the best players and the best person that they can be. I can remember me and Victor [Oladipo], we went to middle school about three minutes from DeMatha and we would always go watch them play, especially when they were playing against a premier player. We always had guys to look up to and it definitely helped us as well.

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You wear the No. 4, but your number is 2. Can you talk about your jersey number?

Well, Nolan [Smith] always wore the No. 23 growing up. I always switched numbers. I was a Kobe [Bryant] fan growing up, AI fan…so I always switched numbers, I never had a number. Nolan told me when he got to Duke he picked no. 2 and I told him when I got to DeMatha, that I was going to pick No. 2, so all throughout my high school career and his college career, he wore 2, so I wore 2 as well. And when he got to the League, he wore 4, so when I was in, I think I started to wear 4. But 4 was never available for me. When I was in Atlanta, I told myself that I wanted to wear 4 because of Nolan, and when I got to Golden State I wanted to wear 4 and it’s just because of Nolan really. He wore 4 in the League and I want to wear 4 in the League.

Has he ever said anything about that?

No question. I told him that I wanted to wear No. 4 this year because he wore it and he appreciated that. Vic [Oladipo] wears 4. We told each other that we wanted to wear the same number as well so it’s a really cool thing.

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You signed a two-year contract with Golden State. Do you feel like you can breathe? 

No, my mind won’t let me do it. My body won’t let me do it. That’s just how I am and it could be a bad thing at times, because sometimes I don’t get the chance to enjoy the moment or sit down and reflect on the journey. I’m always thinking: What’s the next thing? For example, in college, when we won the national championship, I celebrated and I was happy. But two days later, I felt like I had to get ready for the draft because [Duke teammates] Jahlil [Okafor], Justice [Winslow], Tyus [Jones], they all knew they would be drafted, so they could breathe a little easier, but I didn’t know, so I had to get back in the gym. And this year, winning a world championship, I told myself that I was going to take a month, month and a half, and kind of slowly walk into it. I didn’t really play against Houston [in the West Finals], I didn’t play against Cleveland [in the NBA Finals] and I have that in the back of my mind. That’s what pushes me through the summer to continue to get better. I know I have a lot more growing to do, and I want to help the team anyway I can. One thing that I take pride in is that every year I’ve gotten better and that’s my mindset: to keep getting better.