The house was packed at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona on February 14, 2009, and Daequan Cook was about to show the world that he was a true rising star. The sophomore shooting guard was representing the Miami Heat in the 2009 All-Star Three Point Challenge. He had made it to the final round against the Orlando Magic’s Rashard Lewis and two-time defending shootout champ Jason Kapono, but most of the people in attendance had no idea who Cook was.
Dwyane Wade was in the front row cheering him on, and Shaq had actually picked him to dethrone Kapono, but at best he was known as “that other guy” who played at Ohio State with Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr.
He went last, having to beat out Rashard Lewis’ 15 points (Stephen Curry was probably laughing at that in his dorm at Davidson) and Reggie Miller was having fun at his expense on live TV. “Congratulations, Rashard Lewis…I’m telling you; I know basketball players. This is (Cook’s) first time, I don’t think he can do it,” Miller said as Cook made just one of his first seven shots. But then Cook got hot and proved him wrong, making his last four including the money ball at the buzzer to force a tiebreak that he would go on to dominate, 19-7.
“This was my opportunity to show I could be one of the elite three-point shooters in this game. I came out and I did that.” Cook said at the trophy ceremony, envisioning a long career as Wade’s compadre in Miami. The thing is, that was the high point of an NBA trajectory that never took off. He became one of the “Forgotten Heat”.
An Elite Prospect
Cook came out of high school as a McDonald’s All-American and committed to Ohio State with his AAU buddies Oden and Conley as part of coach Thad Matta’s “Thad Five”, but he was actually the second best of the bunch. Oden was the consensus #1 prospect back in 2006, but Cook was in the Top 15 and actually rated much higher than Conley, who didn’t even crack the Top 20 (Side note: Chase Budinger was sixth, I love that).
Conley would actually make a gigantic leap as a Buckeye, while Cook stagnated and barely averaged 4.8 points in the NCAA Tournament. He rode the bench with two points in nine minutes in the championship game they would eventually lose against Florida. His draft stock plummeted, and many saw him as a second round pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.
Bringing the Heat
Enter Pat Riley. The Godfather was Miami’s head coach and seething after a disappointing 2006-07 season that saw his Heat go 44-38 and get swept in the first round by the Chicago Bulls as defending champions. Shaq was gone, but so were James Posey and Kapono.
Riley needed a shooter and made a draft-day trade with the Philadelphia 76ers after selecting Jason Smith with the 21st pick to acquire Cook, selected 22nd.
Cook seemed to blend seamlessly into Heat culture and was blossoming in his second year during the 2008-09 season with career highs in games (75), minutes (24.4) and points per game (9.1) while his three-point shooting percentage rose from 33.2% as a rookie to 38.7%. That was the year of his All-Star showcase, and he was a part of an up and coming Heat squad led by rookie head coach Erik Spoelstra and Wade in his prime creating plenty of opportunities for shooters like him.
That was never more evident than in Game 2 of the first round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks. Cook was a delight with 20 points in 35 minutes off the bench going 7-for-12 with six threes in 35 minutes. He was the spark Michael Beasley was supposed to be and never was.
However, the following season saw that spark flame out as he averaged 5.0 points in just 45 games, shooting 32% from deep.
Cook would never experience the “Big Three” Era, since he was traded in 2010 to the Oklahoma City Thunder along with the 18th pick of that year’s draft for the 32nd pick.
That 18th pick eventually went to the LA Clippers, who selected current Milwaukee Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe. The Heat went with Dexter Pittman. Good thing two guys called LeBron and Chris arrived in Miami shortly after.
A Steep Descent
Cook would actually play for the Thunder against the Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals. Well, played is a strong word.
His scoring total was 0, 0 and 0 in three of the five games. He didn’t take a single shot in two minutes of action in Game 1, a 93-86 Thunder win, and followed that up going 0-for-6 in 23 minutes during a 115-78 Miami romp in Game 4 in South Florida. Meanwhile., Mike Miller was showing him what could have been having the time of his life as Miami’s sharpshooter with seven three pointers in the Game 5 that sealed the series.
Things spiraled even farther from there. Cook went from being an important bench player for a contender to a non-entity in Chicago and Houston in 2013 before being out of the NBA for good after that season.
Cook went on to play in Germany, led the French league in three-point percentage with SPO Rouen Basket and made stops in Portugal and Iran between 2014 and 2017. He was a basketball nomad without a home, wandering the desert aimlessly.
“Yeah, bless his little heart, he grew himself a beard,” Renae Cook said of her son Daequan to the Dayton Daily News. “He looks like one of the Iranians now. He blends in good.”
And then he found his promised land.
Cook arrived in Nes Ziona, a tiny town of 50,000 people in the heart of Israel with a team called Ironi Ness Ziona, in 2017. Nes Ziona had three Americans in their roster, including former Villanova guard Corey Fisher. You know, that guy who scored 105 points in a street basketball game back in 2010.
Cook became the fourth American on the team and flourished in the Israeli League, being named an All-Star in 2019.
He is not in his prime anymore, only 33 years old. However, most importantly, he seems to have found a home and happiness once again away from the bright lights of the NBA.
L ‘Chaim, Daequan. You will always have Phoenix.