If anyone on this year’s Gonzaga squad embodied sacrifice, it was Aaron Cook. During his preseason media rounds, Mark Few made it a point to highlight the addition of Cook to the team. The grad transfer guard was tabbed for a big role, and would have been right to expect one after proving his bona fides at Southern Illinois where he made 70 starts and averaged 15 ppg, 3.3 apg, 3 rpg, and 3.2 spg through the first six games of his senior season in 2019-20 before breaking his hand and missing the rest of the campaign.
Cook (and Dominick Harris), were affected most by the unexpected eligibility granted to Andrew Nembhard at the start of the season, and that big role alongside Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi on the nation’s number one team never fully materialized.
After playing more than 30 mpg beginning his sophomore season with the Salukis, and averaging 9.8 ppg and 10.5 ppg in his sophomore and junior years, Cook found himself in a position where he was playing 13 minutes a night, a number much closer to his freshman year usage than his final 2+ years at SIU, and only claimed three double digit scoring performances at Gonzaga. That paradigm shift could have easily resulted in some hurt feelings and tension, but Cook seemed to take it all in stride and fully embraced the role and position he had on the team as defensive stopper and occasional offensive spark plug.
Despite the reduced role, Cook still turned in some eye-catching performances for Gonzaga. Cook was a catalyst in the first half on the road at Saint Mary’s as the starting lineup floundered a bit during the first 20 minutes, and was dominant in Malibu where he collected his first double-digit scoring performance as a Zag while putting the shackles on Colbey Ross.
Performances like the one in Malibu served as a reminder of the depths of Cooks’ game, but on a team that was an offensive juggernaut he simply didn’t need to be that guy. Instead, Cook maximized his time on the floor by being a reliable and dogged on-ball defender.
Even as we watched this team from a distance, it was evident that Cook was fully committed and bought in to Gonzaga’s culture and team first mentality. Unsurprisingly, those were the traits that Cook had been looking for in his final college basketball stop, and was happy to find at Gonzaga.
Cook has yet to announce what his plans are for next season. He still has his extra year of eligibility if he wants to take it, and could return to fill a similar role to the one he had this year on another Gonzaga team that should be primed for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. But if he departs, I hope Cook doesn’t look back on this season as a year of “what could have been”, but instead finds deep satisfaction in helping take Gonzaga to the brink of perfection.