IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa freshman forward Tyler Cook has come a long way since being a chubby seventh grader.
Cook is the first to admit that his path to Iowa did not come without a lot of help and some tough love from his A.A.U. coach and trainer, Darrly Lenard.
At times, Lenard would come to Cook’s house and force the budding star to put in the work necessary to get to where he is now.
Thanks to countless hours in the gym under Lenard’s supervision, Cook is now a strapping 6-foot-9, 253-pound Big Ten forward.
"I’ve been with my trainer Darryl Lenard since seventh grade," said Cook, who is one of five freshman on Iowa’s team. "In seventh grade I was probably 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 and a chubby kid. Thanks to the patience he had with me and the amount of time he put in with me in the gym. Even when I didn’t want to he would come to my house drag me out of the house and drive 30 minutes just to get to an open gym."
"We would work all day and all night. What he’s done for me is just something that I can’t even put into words. I’m just appreciative for what he’s done for me and he’s a big reason why I’m here now."
Cook tried out for the freshman team as an eighth grader, but was cut from the squad. Lenard then helped Cook find a home on the 15-under St. Louis Eagles squad.
"I was cut my first year with the Eagles when I tried out in eighth grade and he actually got me on the 15-under team," Cook said. "I didn’t play much the first few times but I kept working and got some minutes in and that’s actually how I got affiliated with the Eagles myself."
Cook has made a strong impression on his new college teammates, which includes fellow freshman forward and Dubuque native Cordell Pemsl.
“The kid is unreal," Pemsl said of his new roommate. "He does everything. He can do it all. He was known for, when he came here, that he could jump. He’s going to dunk on you, you know it’s going to come and there’s nothing you can do about it.
“Honestly, his game has improved so much since he got here. In June, he was an okay shooter at best, and now he put up five threes in practice yesterday, five-for-five and none of them touched the rim. He’s shooting the ball well, he’s jumping well, he’s defending well. He’s doing everything Coach is asking him to do and he’s going to be a very big factor in our games this upcoming season.”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery raved about Cook at media day on Wednesday, saying Cook has highest ceiling of any player he has recruited to Iowa.
Pemsl echoed his coach’s sentiment about Cook’s potential.
“I think it’s even crazier that he’s not at his full potential yet, that’s the part that everyone should look out for," Pemsl said. "Everyone thinks ‘He went to Chaminade (High School), he’s getting all the attention. But honestly, he’s raw. He’s doing everything off of talent right now. So once he gets the coaching that he needs and the practice at the Big Ten level the ceiling is very high for him.”
McCaffery held nothing back when talking about Cook’s potential to the media on Wednesday.
“I think he’s capable of being a star,” McCaffery said. “I really do. You guys that have been around me know that I say what I think typically, so it’s not like let’s go easy and not push him. I have a responsibility to be honest, and I think he’s an impact player, certainly on our team, in our league, and on a national level. I think he’s that good.”
“You know, he’ll line up in the forward position, but you’ll see him bring it down. You’ll see him post-up. You’ll see him shoot threes, attack the rim, playing ball screen action, and that’s what I told him when we recruited him, that we’ll utilize him that way."
McCaffery wants Cook to play all over the court, but McCaffery also has high expectations for Cook as a rebounder.
“He has typically been a prototype (power forward) with that body, and he can do that," McCaffery said. "The key for us, and the key for him is going to be to making sure that while he’s dribbling the ball and shooting threes, he still gets after it on the glass and is up around 10 rebounds a game, which is not easy."
Pemsl didn’t get near as much attention as Cook on media day, but Pemsl seemed okay with that. He credits Cook for making him better, along with sophomore forward Ahmad Wagner.
"We make each other better," Pemsl said. "He’s made me better since June and there’s a few different things that I’ve learned from his game, or guys like Ahmad who are the same position as me. They not only push you physically but mentally as well."
Dale’s last stand: Dale Jones and Peter Jok both are pictured on the front cover of the Iowa men’s basketball team’s 2016-17 prospectus.
They made the cover as the only seniors on the team.
Jones is actually a fifth-year who senior already has been granted a sixth-year of eligibility after missing almost all of last season with his second serious knee injury in college.
However, it is uncertain whether Jones will play for Iowa beyond this season.
“I have to talk to (coach) McCaffery about it, but I’m not really even thinking about that right now,” Jones said Wednesday at media day. “I’m just thinking about being able just to play in the first game. Right now, I’m just concerned with getting prepared for the first game.
“That will handle itself. McCaffery and the coaching staff will handle that when that time comes. If I’m blessed to be able to play somewhere overseas or anywhere else, I’ll take it.”
Jones, who turns 23 in December, spent three years in junior college before transferring to Iowa last season. The Waterloo native competed in six games before suffering a season-ending knee injury in practice.
He averaged 5.5 points in six games and shot 45 percent from 3-point range, making 9-of-20 attempts before being injured.
“I bring a lot of toughness and a lot of grit to the game,” Jones said.
Iowa has to replace four starters from last season and four of its top five scorers from a year ago. The 6-8 Jones is confident that he can help fill that void on offense.
“We have a lot more scorers than people think we have,” Jones said. “It’s going to be great to see how these guys take it on to the floor.”
Scholarship count: Iowa has three players committed to its 2017 recruiting class, including McCaffery’s son, Connor McCaffery, who plays guard for West High, along with being a standout baseball player.
The problem is that Iowa only has two scholarships available for the 2017 class. And that is assuming Dale Jones doesn’t return for a sixth season.
Fran McCaffery was asked Wednesday how he plans to deal with that conundrum?
“Well, you know, it’s not a conundrum until it is,” McCaffery said. “We’ve got time. With regard to my son, he’s on board; he gets it. He’s also thinking about baseball, as well, so that’s a whole other deal.
“But I’m going to support him either way, whatever he wants to do, and he visited for baseball last week, so that was interesting, and he really enjoyed that. So I was a parent on the visit, so that was interesting. We’ll see.”
Connor McCaffery wants to play both basketball and baseball for the Hawkeyes. He said he would consider walking on the basketball team in order to make a scholarship available.
The other two players in Iowa’s 2017 recruiting class are 6-10 Luka Garza and 6-9 forward Jack Nunge. Garza attends high school in Washington D.C., while Nunge lives in Indiana after having lived in Coralville.