A string of graduate transfer guards/wings – Drew Barham, Byron Wesley, Jordan Mathews, Geno Crandall, Admon Gilder, Ryan Woolridge – has filled important roles on several of Gonzaga’s best teams.
The newest name on that list is Aaron Cook, a 6-foot-2 guard from Southern Illinois University who announced his commitment to the Zags on Tuesday night.
One of the reasons Cook picked Gonzaga is the program’s successful track record with grad transfers, which is somewhat similar to the Zags’ proven blueprint for developing international big men.
“Definitely,” Cook said in a phone interview Wednesday. “That was one of the first things (Zags assistant) coach (Roger) Powell said to me: ‘We have great success with grad transfers.’ ”
Cook’s attributes – fast, athletic – and style of play – defensive-minded, team-oriented, unselfish – are comparable to Woolridge, the North Texas transfer who handled point guard last season.
“They told me a little bit about him, the same similarities that we have,” Cook said of Woolridge. “I know he had a great impact last year. They were telling me I could have the same impact, that’s what they’re looking for from me.”
Cook entered the transfer portal in late March and heard from more than a dozen schools. The Zags reached out within hours and stayed in touch. Cook’s other finalists were DePaul, Arkansas and Santa Clara.
The NCAA banned in-home and campus recruiting visits because of the coronavirus pandemic, so Cook took virtual tours of Gonzaga’s facilities.
“A lot of it was through FaceTime, going around campus they showed me videos of the facilities,” he said. “I loved it. I knew I would love it before they sent me the videos, being one of the top schools in the nation.
“The biggest thing for me when I committed was I felt like Gonzaga checked all my boxes with what I want to do in basketball and in life. Winning was one of my big boxes, and going somewhere and playing a lot and proving I can play at the highest level.”
Cook checked a lot of the boxes on Gonzaga’s list, too. The Zags needed an experienced ballhandler in addition to rising junior Joel Ayayi and incoming freshman guards Jalen Suggs and Dominick Harris.
Cook played point and shooting guard during his Southern Illinois career. He joins a versatile guard/wing group – senior-to-be Corey Kispert, sophomore Martynas Arlauskas and freshman Julian Strawther – capable of playing multiple positions.
Cook is tied for 10th in SIU history with 138 career steals, despite his senior season lasting just six games due to a broken hand. He had seven steals in a November game against Oakland, one shy of the school record. Cook averaged 30-plus minutes per game in his final 71 games.
“They told me the biggest thing with me coming in is being a ballhandler, handling pressure in full court and with my experience, being a leader,” Cook said. “Defending is something I take pride in. I think that’s what they saw most in me, being a great defender.
Cook averaged 15 points, 3.3 assists, 3.2 steals and 3.0 rebounds in six games last season. The St. Louis native made 55.2% of his field-goal attempts.
“I really like attacking the basket and creating for my teammates,” he said. “I feel I’m more of a facilitator and a leader. I like to score, too, but I feel like my game is more about being a true point guard. I had to score a little more (last season) with some of the new guys and new players adjusting to playing Division I.”
Cook, who has a 3.1 GPA, expects to complete degree requirements in May. He’s majoring in exercise science with a minor in marketing.
He was named to the Missouri Valley Conference Scholar-Athlete second team after his junior season. He was MVC All-Academic second team after his sophomore year.
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