Over the last month, Mark Few and his players have been interviewed by several media outlets. The name that keeps coming out of all their mouths is Aaron Cook. Few has been singing his praises and believes he will be a large contributor this season on both ends of the floor. So who is this guy and what can we expect?
Aaron Cook is a 6’2 redshirt senior who played his first four seasons at Southern Illinois. Each year he took another big step in development, and he looked like he would be one of the best mid-major players in the country last season before breaking his hand. He was granted a medical redshirt and decided Gonzaga would be his final college destination, in hopes of making a deep tournament run.
As a sophomore, Cook was named to the Missouri Valley Most Improved team, jumping into the starting lineup and increasing his scoring from 3.0 points to 9.8 points per game. As a junior, he bumped that to 10.5 points, but more importantly, his assist totals skyrocketed. He was second in the MVC with 4.0 assists per game and seventh in assist/turnover ratio. He averaged the second most assists of any SIU player the last decade.
He broke out of his shell completely last Fall. In his first six games, he averaged 15.0 points on 55 percent shooting along with 3.3 assists and 3.2 steals. A broken hand ended his season. That broken hand was a blessing for Gonzaga, as he now gets to spend his redshirt senior campaign in Spokane.
That’s the statistical story of Aaron Cook. Now, how does he fit in? Cook’s offensive game should absolutely thrive under Mark Few. There’s two things that Cook excels at: getting downhill and making the right decision. In Gonzaga’s ball screen heavy offense, those two traits will come in handy. If you want recent comparisons, he’s got the driving ability of Ryan Woolridge with the strength of Admon Gilder. One of the worries with Woolridge coming in was his high turnover numbers. With better players around him, he lowered that by almost a full turnover a game. The same can certainly happen with Cook.
Where Cook may have his biggest impact is the defensive side of the ball. It’s possible that Cook will be the best 1-on-1 lockdown defender on the team. He has quick hands and great instincts. Last season, Gilder became the guy to stick on Jordan Ford and shut him down. Cook may very well take that role this year. With Anton Watson back, it’s very possible that Gonzaga uses their 1-2-2 press more often. Using Watson at the head of that with Cook in that second line can cause a lot of headaches for opponents.
When I asked a Southern Illinois Twitter friend what Gonzaga can expect from Cook, his response was: “stability.” In a very young backcourt, stability will be huge. Even as a top 10 prospect, Jalen Suggs is still a freshman. Cook’s experience, poise, and leadership will help both on and off the court.
I would guess Cook plays 20-22 minutes off the bench. He is a natural point guard, but can easily play alongside Suggs, too. If Dominick Harris isn’t ready to play against these top teams right away, Cook can certainly play more. When Coach Few singles out certain players in interviews, he is usually excited about them. If Few is excited about Cook, Gonzaga fans should probably follow suit.