This winter was a tale of two seasons for Daquan Cook and the Digital Harbor boys basketball team.
Cook was one of several high-profile additions to the Rams' roster before the season, and the junior combo guard was a major reason for the South Baltimore school's preseason No. 3 ranking.
Digital Harbor started slow as it struggled to find the right combinations, dropping out of The Sun's Top 15 poll by January. But Cook said he "was never concerned" about the Rams finding their way.
"I knew our chemistry would come together," he said. "We just wanted to work harder the second half of the season. We knew what time it was. The second half of the season is where you pick it up, and when the playoffs come, you've got to work hard. You can't take days off in the second half of the season. We put the first half of the season behind us."Cook, 6 feet 2, 175 pounds, shared ball-handling duties with senior Kevin Smith, and the duo developed a strong rapport throughout Baltimore City league play and into the state playoffs, culminating with a 64-46 win over Easton in the Class 2A championship game.
"It was a great experience," said Cook, who averaged around 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists. "Everybody wants to make it to Comcast Center, but everybody can't make it. So we were thankful that we made it. We worked hard for it and deserved it."
There was little time for him to sit back and soak up the title thanks to the spring AAU season starting. Last July, Cook led Nike Baltimore Elite's 16-and-under team to the Super Showcase AAU tournament title in Orlando. This year, however, Cook is suiting up for the Under Armour Elite Panthers -- a first-year program led by St. Frances coach Mark Karcher and Cook's cousin, Dwayne Wise.
"It was a very tough decision for me," Cook said. "Coming off the national championship with my teammates, we had a very good season – a long, hard season, hard practices. I knew I was going to miss my coaches, too -- Coach [Darrell] Corbett. It was a very tough decision for me."
Cook -- who helped the Panthers to a 2-0 record last weekend at the inaugural Karcher & Wise Spring Classic at St. Frances -- said he looks forward to more "exposure" this spring and summer on the circuit. He already has a long list of colleges that have been in contact, including George Washington, Kentucky, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Rhode Island, South Florida, Temple, UConn, UNC-Wilmington, VCU, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. The Bulls have already extended a scholarship offer.
"First, I like [South Florida assistant coach Eric] Skeeters," Cook said. "He's from Baltimore. So I've got to start right there. They had a good point guard in Dominique Jones, and that's basically what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to work hard at point guard and play at the next level."
A second-team Baltimore Sun All-Metro selection, Cook has had plenty of exposure to the ACC schools on his list. He has visited Blacksburg before, chatted with Hokies coach Seth Greenberg, and appreciated Towson Catholic grad Malcolm Delaney's success there. Maryland, meanwhile, continues to closely monitor Cook's progress.
"Coach Bino [Ranson], he comes to a lot of my games, comes to see me play," Cook said. "He got me to talk to Coach Gary Williams one time. And that would be a good situation for me, too. They have two freshmen point guards. I would be playing against them and working hard in practice."
The Owls are another program that has followed Cook for quite some time.
"They would be a good situation for me because their point guard is a junior right now," Cook said. "I'm a junior, too. When he graduates, I'll come right in and hopefully take his minutes if I decided to go to Temple."
Cook said he's focused now on the AAU season, where he expects to play the role of "a scorer, a leader and a floor general" for the Panthers. He's hoping that this summer will provide similar success to what he experienced earlier this month at Digital Harbor.
"I'm just looking to work hard, play against the top players in the country and have some good teammates so we can win some tournaments and get a lot of exposure."
Baltimore Sun photo of Daquan Cook by Gene Sweeney Jr. / Feb. 28, 2011