IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — No one was less surprised that Tyler Cook decided to come back to Iowa than coach Fran McCaffery.
The biggest question now for the Hawkeyes is whether Cook’s return will be enough to get them back on track after a disappointing season.
Cook, who will be a junior next season, announced on Wednesday that he was withdrawing from the NBA Draft. Though it seemed like at times that Cook’s days in Iowa City might be numbered — and he acknowledged Thursday that he was unsure about his future until Wednesday morning — McCaffery said that the process went almost exactly as he envisioned it.
Cook, who averaged team highs with 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds a game in 2017-18, wasn’t expected to be selected.
“It was time for him to explore his options, and that’s exactly what he did … and I’m sort of baffled by everybody’s surprise. I mean, the kid wants to play in the NBA. I want him to play in the NBA. I want to be part of him reaching his dream,” McCaffery said. “If the indications were that he was going to be a first-round pick, he’d be gone. … I think everybody overanalyzed what happened. He did exactly what he said he was going to do.”
Cook and fellow junior-to-be Isaiah Moss both went through the NBA draft evaluation process before deciding to re-commit to the Hawkeyes. That left Iowa in the position of bringing nearly every key contributor back in 2018-19. That could be either a good or a bad thing for a team that lost 19 games and was just 4-14 in the Big Ten.
The Iowa defense was, at times, perhaps as bad as any Power Five team in America. Iowa allowed nearly 80 points a game and let opponents shoot 46.2 percent from the floor.
Both McCaffery and Cook said Thursday that Iowa’s defense will have to improve if the team wants to escape the league basement. The Hawkeyes should have the depth to make that happen, as they return all five starters from a year ago.
We need to “make sure everyone is locked in and ready to go,” Cook said.
As for Cook’s future, McCaffery said that NBA scouts want to see Cook improve as much next season as he did between his freshman and sophomore seasons, when his points, rebounds and assists all went up. They also want him to improve defensively to the point where Cook would be able to guard all five positions.
If Cook can become a better defender next season, it should help the Hawkeyes make the necessary strides on that end of the floor — and solidify Cook’s status as the leader Iowa has been looking for.
“He wants to lead this team. That’s what I love about this guy. He has to be the guy that leads in the locker room and on the court. I encourage him to be that guy,” McCaffery said.