Steven Cook’s mind was made up, so there was no reason to wait.
Cook, a guard at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, made the fairly unprecedented decision to verbally commit to Princeton prior to arriving at the midway point of January of his junior year – a full 20 months before he would be enrolling in college.
According to Trevians head coach Scott Fricke, this conclusion may have appeared surprising but it was an easy one to reach.
"Steven's number one choice was to go to Princeton,” Fricke said. He visited a lot of schools over the summer and he played in a lot of camps. He had a lot of people interested in him and Princeton got a hold of him early. [The staff] came out to several open gyms. They really liked the way Steven played and the way that specifically he would play for the ‘Princeton Offense’ style. They thought he was a perfect fit.”
After almost two weeks of phone tag, Fricke and I finally talked about Cook this morning. Exclusive quotes and analysis plus links to player evaluations and videos about the first member of Mitch Henderson’s 2013 recruiting class can all be found after the jump.
If you want to read about the three committed members of the Tigers’ 2012 class, full profiles can be found here.
Cook is in his first season with New Trier’s varsity, playing for a team that is 17-2 overall and ranked sixth in the state.
“[Steven] was definitely in our plans, but we felt developmentally-wise that it would be more beneficial for him to really have the ball in his hands and play point guard at the lower level. As a sophomore he was brought up to the varsity at different stints during the season,” Fricke explained.
That measured approach has paid off. Since starting high school, Cook has gone through a growth spurt, during which his ball-handling skills have not deteriorated. “He's played point guard in our program the past couple of years,” said Fricke, who is in his fourth season coaching the Trevians. “He was 6'1" as a freshman and now he's 6'4" and a half as a junior. The kid has really grown. He has really good ball-handling skills and passing skills. He's an excellent shooter and he has kind of sneaky athleticism. He really jumps well.”
“He's only a junior and he's playing on a very good team this year. We've got three returning seniors [including Dartmouth recruit Connor Boehm] who are all very good players on this team and he came in and fit in well with all of them,” Fricke added. “You'll watch a game when he's playing and he might not score as much and you can say say 'man, he played a great game!' He blocks shots, he rebounds, he plays great defense.”
This year Cook is averaging 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists a game.
Because of his added inches, Cook still needs to add muscle to his increased frame. Fricke estimates Cook currently weighs between 175 and 180 pounds.
“I thought because he's grown so much he needed to improve his strength and he's done that. He's still a tall, thinner guy but he's really worked hard in the weight room,” Fricke said. “He has become an excellent three point shooter. He's one of those kids where if he's open, he's going to make it.”
Cook’s height makes him useful defensively for New Trier.
“We play him on the top of our 1-3-1 zone, which is a zone we got from Northwestern when Mitch was there,” Fricke revealed. “I could see Steven playing at the top of the 1-3-1 at Princeton in a couple years. He's long and knows how to anticipate passes well. He gets a couple steals a game for dunks just off that.”
While Cook handles point guard duties for the Trevians, Fricke doesn’t see the junior in this role at Princeton.
“I think he's going to be 6'6" so he could either be a guard or a forward. I think he could be very versatile in that system,” he said, adding “He's kind of a late bloomer. He's really grown, he's really developed recently. I think he has a very high ceiling.”
Cook played at Princeton’s elite camp this summer and after a recent trip to campus at the invitation of the staff, his mind was made up.
Fricke wasn’t astonished. “He's the ultimate team guy,” he said. “He's so unselfish. He doesn't care about points scored or stats or anything. The thing that matters is winning. He's a very good competitor and he's a gym rat. We'll have a hard practice and I'll meet with my coaches for a half an hour - we'll come back out and he's still shooting and working in the gym - the kid wants to get better and he's going to do whatever it takes to get better.”
Many months will pass between now and when Steven Cook officially sets foot on the Princeton campus as a freshman but for this intriguing, unique early addition to the Tigers there was plenty of time to continue to improve but no need for delay.
Because of Cook's recent ascent, there is not as much information out there on him compared to a prospect committing towards the end of their senior season. I've assembled everything I could find below.
Cook is a Full Package Athletics product, the same AAU system that developed current Tigers Mack Darrow and Brian Fabrizius. It is crazy to think Darrow will have graduated by the time Cook arrives.
You can see Cook’s individual Full Package profile here, which includes pretty glowing academics.
Joy Of The Game ranks Cook seventh in the Class of 2013, a list that seems to include all teams from the Chicago suburbs.
Cook scored 20 points versus Buffalo Grove last week with Mitch Henderson watching in the stands.
In a first round matchup with Fenwick, Cook had 16 points and a game high 10 rebounds.
Cook’s play stood out as New Trier fell in the finals.
A glimpse of Cook shooting can be seen 1:20 into this package.
Cook also made the All-Tournament Team at the the Loyola/New Trier Thanksgiving Tournament.
After a win over Waukegan, Fricke said of Cook: “"He plays with a reckless abandon…he’s not afraid at all, he just goes out and plays."
Another Fricke quote on Cook from this team preview: “He really tore it up in our fall workouts…He’s a taller guard who can really shoot it. He was forced to play point guard the last two years because we had other guards up on the varsity, and I think his development was aided because of that. He’s also very long defensively and he gets his hands on a lot of balls.”
A list of players involved with Hoop Avenue Athletics includes Cook (as well as Mason Rocca).
After the 2011 Swish ‘N Dish Spring Warm-Up, Cook was named a “Top Performer.”
In addition to Princeton’s summer camp, Cook also attended Boston College’s Prospect Clinic. HoopRootz wrote:
There was one guy from out of town who had everyone asking, "Who's that?" THAT was 6'4 combo guard Steven Cook from New Trier HS outside of Chicago. Cook has a tight handle and a picture-perfect 'Midwest shooting-stroke. He attacks with the dribble and then uses his hops to go up and attack the basket, possessing the ability to go to the rim with two hands or wait out a shot-blocker in mid-air before finishing on the other side of the rim. According to Mom, Cook has seen recruiting interest from schools like BC, Stanford, Harvard & Yale.
After the same camp, New England Recruiting Report stated:
Cook turned heads throughout the day with his bouncy play. While he certainly does not pass the look test, the 6’2” combo guard did it all. He attacked the rim, rose above defenders, and finished acrobatic dunks or lay-ups on countless occasions. He also showed nice form from outside. Cook traveled all the way from Chicago to attend the clinic.
The Wilmette Beacon wrote of Cook’s emergence in November of last year.
Cook spoke with Winnetka Talk after deciding on Princeton.
The Chicago Tribune also wrote up Cook’s commitment.
Finally, I am near-positive that’s Cook dunking for the first time in 2010: