Quinn Cook Q&A: March Madness picks, Coach K, NBA Draft and playing with LeBron
The two-time NBA and NCAAB champion reveals his bracket, explains what it was like to have LeBron as a teammate, and reflects on his CBB career playing for Coach K.
Duke fans are gonna kill me for this, but I have Marquette getting out of the East.
Duke fans are gonna kill me for this, but I have Marquette getting out of the East.
I thought UVA at a No. 4 could have been higher. I thought it was pretty fair to have Gonzaga at a No. 3.
NC State at an 11 is scary. I’ve got them beating Creighton, and I wouldn’t even call that an upset just because of NC State's talent and them being an ACC team. A team like VCU at No. 12 is scary, but I thought they did a pretty good job with the seeding besides a couple of glaring ones.
Which team do you have going to the Final Four and the championship game? And who do you have winning it all?
I know my loyal Duke fans are gonna kill me for this, but I have Marquette getting out of the East. I have Alabama, so on that side [of the bracket] I have Alabama vs. Marquette. And I have Houston and Kansas on the other side. I’ve got Marquette beating Duke in the Elite Eight.
I try not to bet with my heart. Obviously, my friends always kill me, because in every bracket I do, I always have Duke winning it. But this year I wanted to really just be honest. So, ultimately, I have Alabama beating Houston in the national championship game. It’s a rematch for Houston because Alabama beat them earlier, but I think Alabama is the best team in the country right now.
Which double-digit-seeded team do you think has the best chance to make it to the Final Four?
I like VCU. I really, really like VCU. I like their identity. They have guard play. Ace Baldwin Jr. is probably one of the best point guards in the country. I’ve got them losing to Kansas, I think, in the Sweet 16.
Pitt is scary at an 11. I’ve got Pitt going to the Sweet 16 as well. I watched Utah State play San Diego State the other day. I think they (Utah State) are a 10. I’ve got them beating Missouri. They’re a scary team, too. So, there are a couple of teams. I really like the field this year, for sure.
This is Duke’s first year without legendary Coach K. How do you think they have fared so far this year?
Obviously, every season and every Duke team is different. This has to be the most different team that we've seen in 40 years. I love the fact that they were tested early. They had to go through some struggles early. I follow all the Duke fans. Every Duke fan on Twitter. I follow them, and they were really tough on Coach Scheyer. It’s crazy calling him Head Coach Scheyer. But they weathered the storm. They weathered the storm and they got healthy. I mean, Dereck Lively wasn't healthy. Dariq Whitehead wasn’t healthy. Probably two of their three most talented players. We got those guys back in the rotation, and it just got better. It just kept getting better. To sweep North Carolina, then lose to UVA – I kind of thought we got robbed, but it is what it is. But to avenge that in the ACC championship. Miami had beaten us, and we got to beat Miami again.
So, I really love where this team is at. I think we're the hottest team in the country – us and Alabama. I thought we could have had a No. 3 or 4 seed, but I love the field, I love where we are, and I love that we’re in the East. I’m so proud of this team. I am so proud of Jeremy (Roach). I'm so proud of his development as a leader, and the entire team. I love (Tyrese) Proctor. I think he’s gonna be a heck of a pro, and, you know, I love this team. It's fun to watch.
Past or present -- excluding the players that you played with – who are your top five players that you would have loved to play with at Duke?
That's a great question. I will go with Nolan Smith and Jeff Capel. Since I’m not going to count guys that I played with, I’ll also go with Grant Hill at the three, Zion (Williamson) at the four, and Carlos Boozer.
You’ve been a champion in both college and the NBA, but what makes the NCAA tournament special compared to the NBA playoffs?
I believe that if a team beats you four times in the playoffs, I feel like they're the better team, but it (the NCAA tournament) is more exciting for me. I mean, I’ve loved the NBA playoffs from being a kid all the way up to playing in it, and I think it's the best basketball players for those two months. I think that's the highest level of basketball that you can get. Counting the tournament, counting the Olympics, or counting anything, I think the NBA playoffs is the highest level of basketball, but the NCAA tournament is more exciting. Games start at 10 a.m., you’ve got Cinderella stories, and anybody can be beaten.
You know I was part of a No. 2 seed losing to a 15 seed. We finally saw a kid I went to high school with, Jairus Lyles, play on a No. 16 seed and beat UVA, which was a No. 1 seed. So, anything is possible and sometimes the better team doesn't win. The best team in the country can lose on the first weekend, so I think it's all about who's hot right now. It's a little bit of luck, and that's what makes it exciting. And it takes a lot to win these six games, so it’s fun to see the adjustments. It's fun to see the big-time players step up in the big-time moments. So, this whole March Madness is obviously, you know, probably the most fun time of the year for everybody.
What were one or two of the unique traditions that you and your teammates did before March Madness to get ready for that tournament?
We were always close. During my time at Duke we always had close-knit groups. I just think spending time together is the fondest memory I have of being in the tournament. We didn't really pay attention to what potentially could happen. Obviously, we were going to watch the games. It was the talk of the world, so it was hard to get away from it. But we just kind of stayed in the moment. And we watched the games together. I remember in my sophomore year and my senior year, that's really all we did. We would be in a hotel and guys would say “let’s meet in Quinn’s room or let’s go to the lounge. And we would all watch the games together. All of us. And we would just embrace those moments, and when we got to those moments in a game, it was second nature, just because we had that rapport with each other. You know we had envisioned this moment all season. In my sophomore year, we were one injury away from being what I thought was the best team in the country that year. We ended up losing to the eventual national champions, Louisville. Obviously, in my senior year, we won it, but it's the best time. It’s the purest time in basketball, for sure.
In three words, how would you describe your career at Duke?
Fun. I had so much fun! I learned a lot from Coach K. I got to play at the highest stage of college basketball, and I won, so that was fun.
Also, tough. It was tough. I had to grow up. I had to change. I had to become a man, and Coach K held me accountable every day. You know, being a 5-star recruit, being a top point guard in the country, a top-10 player, or whatever, you’ve got all these coaches and all these people promising you this and that. But the only thing Coach K promised me was that he'd coach me as hard as he could for four years, and I can honestly say he did that.
He had no off days. He was the same every day, especially with his point guards. You know, the point guard has got to be the coach on the floor, and you’ve got to have a certain kind of rapport with the coach. It’s not like we were butting heads, but I didn’t want to change my freshman year. Then I reverted back to some bad ways during my junior year, and you know I just gave everything I had in my senior year. So, it was tough, but it was definitely worth it.
And my third word? Just thankful, really. Thankful that I was in a position to get recruited by Duke. Thankful that the coach thought I was good enough to play at Duke, and that I got to meet some incredible teammates, incredible coaches, incredible classmates, and incredible alumni. And it's really a family. So, I will use fun, tough, and thankful as my three words.
What did you learn from Coach K? And do you believe he's the greatest coach of all time?
I learned so much from him. Not just Xs and Os. Not just about becoming a better basketball player, but he literally taught me how to be a man, like, literally. And he understood that I lost my father at a young age, so on Christmas or tough days like anniversaries, birthdays, or anything, he would just step to the side from being my coach and was really like a father figure. Still to this day, he doesn't just coach me, but he checks on me. He calls my mom so much. You know, those two are so close. He’s just the greatest, man. I think he's the greatest coach in sports history. I think, you know, what he's done at Duke and, obviously, with USA Basketball in terms of getting that back on track takes him over the top for me. No disrespect to any other coaches in any sport, but I think when you think of college basketball, you think of Coach K. I just think he’s the greatest.
Can you describe the moment and the feeling that you had when you finally won that National Championship in 2015?
It was crazy. It was amazing because I became obsessed with that moment. I probably wasn't closer to anybody than (assistant coach) Jeff Capel during my time at Duke. It was Jeff Capel, Tyler Thornton, Josh Hairston, and Jahlil Okafor. Those three players are probably who I was the closest to, but I was with Jeff the entire four years. In Jeff’s freshman year, he had lost in the 1994 National Championship game to Arkansas. That was Grant Hill’s senior year, so he became obsessed with getting to that moment again and actually winning. In his time at VCU and Oklahoma, he never got back there. So, when he got back to Duke (in 2011), he was thinking like “Man, we got to get here!” because Duke had just won in 2010.
So, we got there at the same time. Before that I would literally be at home, you know, watching Duke championship games from 1991 on just to watch the last two minutes and see how each team closed the game out. I became obsessed with it. In my sophomore year, I thought we were the best team, but obviously, you know, injuries happen, and so we were just that close. In my senior year, I literally became obsessed with it, and just to have that moment, it was literally everything I had dreamed of and to be right there next to Coach K. He was crying. I was crying for “One Shining Moment.” It was like ‘how did I get here?’ But it was everything that I worked for and everything I imagined. We definitely deserved it. It was the best feeling ever, for sure.
How is Jon Scheyer handling the pressure that comes with coaching Duke, especially one year removed from a legendary coach in Coach K?
Jon's big time. I mean, he's been doing it his whole life. Just hearing stories about Jon and how he came up in Chicago and was a four-year starter at Duke. You know, he had the ball right away. He was thrown into the fire. Coach K threw him into the fire as a player and Coach K threw them into the fire as a coach. I remember he played for three years with my brother Nolan, so I developed a great relationship with Jon, Obviously, being a fan of him and just getting to know him. He’s just a great person, but he's a worker, and he keeps the main thing, the main thing.
Having him come back to coach my junior year was unbelievable. It was unbelievable just to get some insight from him. He helped me tremendously, and you could just see the growth and, you know, he was ready. He was ready, so I wasn't surprised that he got the job because I felt like he was ready. I'm not surprised at the success, because he's done it his whole life. I’m extremely happy for him and I know he's even more motivated now to get a national championship. I'm proud of him. I’m happy for him, and he’s gonna be a great coach at Duke probably for the next 30 or 40 years.
As someone who played in the NBA, CBA, and Duke, who would you say has the most passionate fan base?
Duke. I mean, It's not even close. Like I said, I follow every Duke fan on Twitter that I can, and they have Twitter spaces. I mean, it’s really a thing when we lose, because everybody on the timeline is just so mad. When I was at Duke, it was in the air. But, on the flip side, people take so much pride in being a fan of Duke. And if I say hi to them or take a picture with them, it’s like their entire year – their next five years – is made. I can't go anywhere, especially in North Carolina, I can’t go anywhere without seeing a Duke fan who will show me a picture that I took with them when they were 12 years old but now they’re 20. It is just crazy. I don't think it's even close. I think Duke has the most passionate fans in sports.
Many people are comparing projected NBA No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama to a young LeBron James. What are your thoughts on him?
I think he's a generational player. I'm excited to see him in the spacing that the league has. It’s not just his length, not just his ball-handling, but his shooting ability and his shot-blocking. You know, I think the league’s in trouble for a while with him in it, but I’ve been saying that my favorite player in the draft this year is Brandon Miller. I think he’s the best player in the country. I think in any other year, he could be No. 1. Obviously, Scott (Henderson) is in the mix as well, but Brandon Miller, I think it's not even close -- he's the best player in the country. Him and Marcus Sasser, outside of (Kyle) Filipowski. Filipowski, Miller, and Sasser are my three favorite players to watch by far.
Are there any underrated players that you maybe think could stand out in this year’s NCAA tournament?
The guard from Marquette, the left-handed kid, Tyler Kolek. He can play. I love the guard (Isaiah) Wong from Miami, obviously. Ace Baldwin from VCU. He’s a lot to handle. Kansas, just all around. They have, you know, all-around great talent. I think there are a lot of players that are underrated. Texas is as talented as anybody. I love the kid Tyger Campbell from UCLA. There are just so many players that might not be household names. Jahmir Young from Maryland, he’s incredible. I really watch college basketball, so I could name so many kids. But there’s so much talent that I can’t wait to get it started tomorrow.
You have played with three of the greatest players of our generation Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James. Can you describe the similarities that those guys have?
The first thing I always say about those three is that -- and it's not meant to be cliché – but I honestly believe that they are generational players. They are three of the best players to ever play this game. But they're even better people, you know. That’s what always stuck out to me. All the success that they get, they deserve just because of what type of humans they are. They are all obsessed with basketball. Like really obsessed. I thought I was obsessed, but until I got with them, I didn’t realize how good it was to see that the greats really live like this, really live the game. They're the first in the gym and the last to leave. I never saw players go game-speed all the time in high school or college. Until I got to the NBA and I was around LeBron or KD or Steph and Klay. Those guys go game-speed every day in everything they do.
In my rookie year, when I was with Cleveland, LeBron was the first in the gym. If we had practice at 10 a.m., he was walking into the gym at 7. He was in the weight room at 7:30. And that was fresh after going to the finals and four MVPs later, you know? It was very, very, very eye-opening. All those guys just love the game. They're superstars and generational people, but they are going to take every picture. They’re going to say hi to every fan. And that’s what makes them so special and what I appreciate the most. It was definitely a blessing to play with those guys.
What advice would you give to young players who aspire to play in the NBA? What factor might personal branding and social media play in their efforts?
I love social media. I love the branding, and I wish that I could have followed Kemba Walker on Instagram when he was doing his thing in college. And Mateen Cleaves and Juan Dixon and Jay Williams. All the guys that I grew up idolizing. I wish I could see them on Instagram. So now the little boys, little girls, and all the fans growing up idolizing them can see what college players are doing every day. I think that’s pretty cool. They're doing a great job with getting their brands out there at 17 years old or 18 years old and making some money now. When they get the big marketing deals once they get to the pros, they will know how to do it because they’ve been making deals since they were 17 or 18 years old. I really like it, and I would just give them the advice to keep the main thing, the main thing. Don’t focus on the NIL’s just as much. Don’t focus on whether your brand isn’t going anywhere. Just try to make the best decisions for your basketball career. Stay in the gym and keep working, because once you get to the pros, you’re going to be laughing at the little NIL deals that you were getting because you took care of your business.
Quinn Cook reveals his 2023 NCAA Tournament Bracket
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