The one Duke player everyone has wanted to talk about, at least from a nation-wide perspective, is Mason Plumlee. I understand that. Plumlee has played close to perfect this season, utilizing a new-found post game and improved physicality to the tune of 19.3ppg, 11.3rpg, and a .641 fgp. Heck, even his biggest weakness, free-throw shooting, has improved a 52.8% mark to the 69.7% clip he currently sits at. There is a reason Mason is in every discussion for National Player of the Year awards. He deserves it.
However, there is another player out in Durham who deserves just as much praise for his improvement and performance throughout the duration of this young season. He won’t get the Player of the Year nominations and we won’t be making any All-American teams this season, but he is certainly on his way. His name is Quinn Cook, and he is the floor general of the No. 1 ranked team in the country.
I remember the first game of the season: Duke was playing Georgia State and Tyler Thornton was the starting point guard. Just about every Duke fan I came cross had the same reaction, “Where the heck is Quinn Cook?” He was there, but he did nothing to show us that he belonged in the starting point-guard role anymore than Thornton did:
Tyler Thornton (vs GASU): 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 turnovers
Quinn Cook (vs GASU): 8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers
It wasn’t the prettiest debut for either, and we still had no idea what to expect from the duo. Thornton isn’t a scorer, and the 13 points was more of a result of the ineptitude of the young and inexperienced Georgia State team than it was an improvement in Thornton’s game. Meanwhile, Cook, who was supposed to be significantly improved heading into this season, racked up only two assists and was surprisingly underwhelming in his season debut. Still, we chalked it up to it being the first game of the season and moved on.
The next four games would be more of the same, with Cook putting together an impressive player here and there, but still struggling to put together that signature game, the one that would make us certain he was the point guard of the future. Then the Louisville Cardinals game happened.
Duke was clinging to a small lead against the second-ranked Cardinals and were in dire need of a player to step up and take over. Cook decided to be that guy, slicing and dicing and free-throw shooting his way to Duke’s final eight points, completing the 76-71 upset. It was the kind of performance that made us see the kind of player Cook was capable of being, a kind that made us really start to feel that Duke had something special at point guard.
It was the kind of performance that made us believe.
The performance resulted in Cook being named MVP of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament and would also act as a launching point for the sophomore point guard. He would drop 12 points and eight assists (against one turnover) in his next game, a 73-68 victory over the fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
Loaded with confidence, Cook’s game would do nothing but elevate over the next four contests, highlighted by a twelve-assist performance against the Cornell Big Red and a 56.3% mark from beyond the arc. His assist-to-turnover ratio has become absurd, with Cook dishing out 25 assists compared to just 5 turnovers. He has, in every way, become an infinitely better player compared to where he was at this time last season.
So, should Cook be in the running for National Player of the Year? Probably not, but a few huge performances in ACC play could change that. I’m not writing this article to parade around and promote Cook for POY honors, however. I wrote this because I want to make people appreciate how important Cook has been this season, something that may have been lost in translation with the breakout performances by Mason Plumlee and the stellar play of Seth Curry and freshman phenom Rasheed Sulaimon. In so many ways, it can be argued that Quinn Cook is the most important player on this Duke squad.
Last year, Duke lacked a true point guard, someone who could play the role of quarterback in an offense with so many weapons. The result? A jumbled mess that was knocked out of the tournament in the first round. This year, Duke has a true and healthy floor general in Cook, and they’re out to an 11-0 start with a copious amount of wins over incredibly talented teams, including an Ohio State team that ran them out of Columbus a year ago.
Obviously, Cook isn’t the only factor in Duke’s stellar start, but he is certainly one of the most important ones. In case you haven’t already had your eye on what Mr. Cook is doing out there in Durham, you really should start.