Lenny Cooke

Catching up with Lenny Cooke, the former can’t-miss kid


So many things can happen to high-school phenoms. Kobe Bryant is a five-time NBA champion. LeBron James is a two-time MVP. Dwight Howard is the best center in basketball. Sebastian Telfair is a mediocre backup point guard who has bounced around the league. Jeremy Tyler is currently trying to pay his dues in the D-League. Greg Oden’s injuries may keep him from ever playing again.

Then there’s the sad, sad tale of Lenny Cooke, the can’t-miss kid whose rise and fall was chronicled in a very long and very good profile by the New York Times’ Harvey Araton today. Cooke, who was a hyper-athletic 6-6 swingman who could score at will and seemingly do anything on the court, considered himself a superstar long before he received his high school diploma. As a high school student at ABCD camp, he challenged Kobe Bryant to a game of one-on-one, confident he’d win. In high school, he often neglected to go to class, because he was sure he’d go straight to the NBA and achieve instant stardom. In a Sportscenter piece done on Cook a year or two after he declared for the draft out of high school, only to go undrafted, he confidently declared that he knew he was better than LeBron James, who was in the class behind him.

Araton’s piece includes a recap of Cook and James’ showdown at ABCD camp over a decade ago, which many consider a turning point in Cook’s career and life:

It was the summer of 2001, weeks before 9/11, and Cooke returned to the popular ABCD Camp for the nation’s most prominent high school players at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Teaneck, N.J., campus as the defending most valuable player, the presumed chosen one…

…[Carmelo] Anthony’s team was defeated by Cooke’s group. Cooke dazzled the packed gym and set up a showdown between him and a lesser-known player who was generating interest and who was one grade behind Cooke. His name was LeBron James, out of Akron, Ohio, a comparative basketball backwater…

Sitting in the stands with Debbie Bortner that day, Joakim Noah says he remembers Cooke’s climactic moment — crossing over James on the dribble several times before draining a midrange jumper. The gym erupted, but it was only the first half of a game that would go down to the last possession, a much leaner James with the ball and his team trailing by 2.

James had already outscored Cooke, 21-9, but he saved his best for last. Guarded by Cooke, he dribbled out of the backcourt, to his right. Just as he approached the 3-point line, with a step on Cooke, James went airborne, kicked his feet back and floated the ball toward the rim. He hit nothing but net — game over — while Cooke’s jaw dropped.

“How’d he make that?” he said to a friend afterward, mixing in profanity. “Oh my God.”

After that game, Cooke went undrafted (he expected to go in the late first round or early 2nd round), didn’t do well in the D-League in part because of his sense of entitlement, and spent time bouncing around lower-level professional leagues in the US, abroad, and one stint in the Vegas Summer League before a car accident destroyed Cooke’s athletic career and made him a permanent cautionary tale about the dangers of leaving school early in order to chase the fame and fortune that high-school prospects get promised to them. The entire article is too lengthy, far-reaching, and deep to be properly summarized here, so I encourage you to click the link and read the full story of Cooke’s sad fall from grace.

Sixers’ Wilbekin hits game-winning three vs. Cavs (VIDEO)

Scottie Wilbekin
Leave a comment

LeBron James sat out the Cavs’ preseason game against the Sixers on Thursday night, but Cleveland still held the lead for all but the final 5.4 seconds. Then, Sixers rookie Scottie Wilbekin did this:

Wilbekin, who played college ball at Florida, has a chance to earn legitimate minutes for the Sixers this season as they try to find young talent on the cheap. This is a good start.

Derrick Rose’s eye still swollen, will rejoin Bulls Monday

Derrick Rose
Leave a comment

Eight days ago, Derrick Rose had surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone suffered in training camp. The Bulls said he would be ready to resume basketball activities in two weeks, and in the meantime will rejoin practice soon. That part is still on schedule — head coach Fred Hoiberg says Rose will be with the team when they return to Chicago on Monday following a two-game preseason road trip, but unless the swelling in his eye dies down, it could be a little longer before he can start practicing again.

Via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

It’s not ideal, but since there’s no structural damage to Rose’s face, once he’s cleared to resume practicing, it’s just a matter of getting back into game shape before he can start playing in games. The team is still optimistic he’ll be able to play opening night against the Cavaliers on October 27.