The hype surrounding Tyler Cook has been building since he committed. Now, it's time to see what all that hype was about.
Bio: True Freshman 6'9", 253 LBS. (St. Louis, Missouri)
Last Season: 12 PPG, 7 RPG (High School), First Team All-State and All-Conference Honors
What We Saw Last Season
Cook was in high school last year, so we didn't see anything from him in an Iowa uniform. Of course, that doesn't mean there wasn't plenty of hype surrounding his commitment to Iowa. He was a consensus four star recruit, who made every recruiting site's Top 100 list. ESPN had him as high as #38, while 247 put him at #72, Rivals at #74, and Scout had him the lowest at #99. No matter the ranking, there is no question that he is one of the biggest recruits that McCaffery has landed during his tenure at Iowa.
However, just in case you are looking at that 12 points and 7 rebounds per game line from his high school season last year and worrying that he may be overrated, don't. Because he's not. If anything, Cook was a bit underrated coming out of high school, as he was overshadowed by having one of the top players in the nation on his team in Jayson Tatum. If you haven't heard of him, you will soon see him playing weekly on ESPN for Duke. You will get familiar.
Because of Tatum's presence on the roster, Cook wasn't asked to be the primary scorer on his high school team, the way so many highly-rated recruits usually are. So while his numbers may appear a bit low for high school, they are more indicative of the role he was asked to play. Just look at his highlights. You want this at Iowa.
What We Need To See This Season
Unlike most freshman, Cook doesn't get the benefit of being eased into the swing of Division I college basketball. With Iowa losing four key players from last season's squad, this year's team is light on experience, and needs someone to step into that second scorer spot behind Peter Jok. And judging by the aforementioned hype, Cook is going to be one of the players who is expected to fit that bill.
Fortunately, Cook appears more college-ready than most first year players. His weight is already listed at 253 lbs, and from looking at him, it would not appear to be a bad 253. Thus, he appears to already have a body ready to battle with Big Ten players in the paint. He also pairs that raw, physical strength with great explosiveness, which means dunks. Lots and lots of dunks.
And that's what we need from Cook this season. Like any other big man, he will be relied on for typical big man things like rebounds and defending in the paint. However, unlike many true freshman bigs, Cook will also be relied on to provide points. And he could very well be asked to provide a lot of points for this young team.
Best Case Scenario
Tyler Cook is indeed ready to be a star from day one. He has an Aaron White-esque double-double in his first career game, and that is just the beginning of his tremendous freshman campaign. Cook excels in Iowa's uptempo offense, getting frequent dunks and alley-oops off the break. He also shows advanced footwork and the ability to finish with both hands from day one -- he throws down a few left-handed dunks with ease in both highlight tapes above -- which makes him difficult to guard in the post when you throw in his strength and explosiveness. Essentially, he becomes Iowa's own younger version of Shawn Kemp.
Overall, he scores around 14 points per game and averages 8 rebounds in about 25 minutes per night. He proves to be an excellent partner in crime to Peter Jok, and helps guide the Hawkeyes to yet another NCAA Tournament. He finishes the season by making the Big Ten All-Freshman squad, and looks prepared to be the star of this team for the next three years.
Most Likely Scenario
This is the section in which I try to tamp down your expectations after having just gushed superlatives and gotten your hopes up about Cook being a star from day one. I'll admit that I'm having a hard time containing my expectations, but it is worth cautioning that the first year of college basketball is an adjustment period. Even for four star players, it's not often that they just step onto campus and become one of their team's best players from day one.
When I looked at recruiting stars and production last year, recent freshman four star recruits averaged 1.5 win shares during their first season. For reference, that production level would fall somewhere between what Dom Uhl and Ahmad Wagner gave last season's team. Important for sure, but not exactly star-level.
Part of why freshman production levels are usually so low, stems from the fact that most teams aren't in Iowa's position of having to replace four key starters on a yearly basis. So Cook's situation is different than most, and I expect that to mean that he surpasses that 1.5 win share total this season. But by how much? That's the real question.
More than likely, I think Cook will give Iowa somewhere between 8-10 points on a nightly basis, and throw in 5-6 rebounds alongside those buckets. There will be nights where Cook looks like one of the best players in the Big Ten (likely against lower competition), throwing down thunderous dunk after thunderous dunk in both the half-court setting and also in the transition game. On the other hand, there will also be growing pains against top competition. There will be nights where Cook completely disappears, potentially leaving the Hawkeyes without much of a legitimate post presence. There will likely be enough of those off night struggles from Cook -- and many of the other young players -- that the Hawkeyes are good enough to be on the bubble, but they probably won't make the final cut for the Tournament in March.
Since the graduation of Aaron White, Iowa hasn't had a player that could dunk on nearly every play. So I ask one thing of you, Tyler, give me reason to break out the Dunk-O-Meter again.