Monday, August 31, 2015

Cook Brings Monstrous Post Presence To Elev8

Consider Levi Cook a basketball old soul.

 As a young kid, the Glen Daniel, W.V. native was enamored with highlight films of hometown stars such as Jerry West, Randy Moss and Jason "White Chocolate" Williams.

His focus shifted, however, when his grandfather implored him to take note of Shaquille O'Neal during the Shaq/Kobe Lakers heyday.

Shaq's supreme interior manhandling quickly garnered Cook's undivided focus. It also put everything in perspective, as the 6-foot-10, 286-pound Cook was always considerably bigger than all of his classmates.

Emulating Shaq's inside game and sustaining his identity as a true big, Cook's game flourished. With big, soft hands, he's become increasingly adept around the rim.

Finishing with authority while learning to alter, change, and manipulate shots defensively, there's no confusion about where the big fella belongs on the court. Yet with deft interior dishing ability and an innate awareness for reads, one of Cook's more appealing attributes is his basketball IQ.

This quality allowed Cook to ascend the ropes of the nation's premiere bigs. Though he served primarily as a supplemental piece alongside 6-foot-11, 245-pound Thomas Bryant (Indiana) at Huntington Prep (W.V.), Cook said he's bettered his defensive play and physical condition.

Providence, Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, and VCU are all currently potential suitors for Cook, who de-committed from West Virginia last fall.

 Cook will spend a post-graduate season at Elev8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, Fla. Elev8 graduated 6-foot-11 Spanish wunderkind Yankuba Sima (St. John's) last season. They return with 6-foot-8, 205-pound Rhode Island-commit Leroy Butts. Flanking Cook in the paint will be 7-footer Sam Alabakis from Australia.

 In a modern-day era where teams feature high-rising, quick-footed bigs who adapt to multiple positions, Cook is very much a throwback.

With Elev8 embracing the ideology that speed kills, Cook's physical development is a major factor. Once he develops a consistent mid-range jumper, he'll create matchup difficulties. Yet as a key interior cog, Cook has the size and the manpower to steer foes clear of the driving lanes.

"Obviously the first thing is getting him at full strength and getting him healthy," explained Elev8 head coach Chad Myers.

"Right now, he's coming back off his ACL injury. He's actually just trimmed down from I think about 310 to 286 with the surgery, taking care of himself, and eating right. Once we get him healthy it's going to be full go."

Keeping Cook close to the rim, the focus is refusing to let him get stretched out on ball screens. His ability to work within the confines of the system, without demanding too many touches. He can dictate an offense scoring primarily on point-blank and hustle points, which caters to Elev8 given its surplus of shooters.

"Hopefully he'll push guys out on the perimeter because of his size and they'll be a little scared to go in there," said Myers.

Cook's relationship with Myers, he said, helped sell him on Elev8. The main focus, however, is getting better on a day-to-day basis and winning the last game of the post-season.

"I'm just here to win a national championship," Cook said.  "I've been close twice. I'm not here to sit the bench. So I'm just here to do whatever the coaches need me to do as best as I can."

While his teammates will adjust to multiple roles, Cook is very much entrenched in the paint.

"The signature aspect of this year's team is going to be versatility, interchangeability, players being able to play multiple positions," explained NBA trainer and Elev8 coach Cody Toppert.

"It allows us to open up the floor even more than we did last year."

NBA trainer Ganon Baker, at the forefront of Elev8's year-round basketball focus, feels Huntington Prep (W.V.) prepared Cook for the rigors of high-level prep basketball.

"The biggest thing we have to do is make him feel comfortable and confident coming back after the ACL injury," said Baker, who is currently working with Kevin Durant.

"Mentally, he knows what to expect. Obviously, any player coming back from an ACL injury is going to be hesitant. Our coaching staff, our medical staff, we just have to get him into a good routine everyday. Where he's getting better, getting confident, shedding some weight and improving his skill-set, making sure he isn't too rusty."

When the topic turned to expectations, Baker didn't flinch.

"We expect our (Red) team to get to the national championship again and we're going to try to win it all," Baker said.

"We don't have as many high-level, household name players as last season, but I think we're just going to be a better team."