Reigning MVP Cooke marked man at ABCD camp
By Travis Richmond, CNNSI.com
HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Lenny Cooke isn't sneaking up on anyone this year at the adidas ABCD Camp.
As a rising junior a year ago, Cooke was relatively unknown when he was invited to the event at Fairleigh Dickinson University. But Cooke changed all that by putting on four-day show, earning the underclassmen co-MVP of the camp's All-Star game.
"Just getting invited to this tournament is one of the best feelings in the world," Cooke said. "I came in here with a lot of people not knowing me, and I decided that anyone who was a big-name, I was going to go after them."
Now, as the No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2002 according to CNNSI.com recruiting expert Brick Oettinger, Cooke is getting a bit of his own medicine as the marked man at this year's camp. Cooke said opposing players are well aware of who he is and raise their level of play to look good against him.
"During the game, it's personal, but after the game I respect them for doing that," said Cooke, who is aiming to join Stephon Marbury as the only two-time camp MVP. "Ever since last year I have been working on my game as much as possible. I knew that coming in here this year everyone was going to be focusing on me. I didn't want to come in here play bad and hurt my name."
And while the 6-foot-6 shooting guard has lived up to his considerable hype over the first two days of this year's event, a pair of even bigger decisions are looming for the 19-year old.
Before Cooke can address the pressing issue for the top high school players in the nation - -- skipping college for the NBA -- Cooke must decide what school to attend as a high school senior.
Cooke came to the ABCD camp a year ago having finished his sophomore season at LaSalle in Manhattan but transferred to Old Tappan in New Jersey because of academic problems. While at Old Tappan, Cooke averaged 31.5 points and 15 rebounds in the eight games he was eligible and improved in the classroom.
However, at age 19, Cooke is no longer eligible to play at Old Tappan. He now must now choose between transferring to a prep school and continuing to play basketball or remaining at Old Tappan, where he is comfortable academically but ineligible athletically.
"They're my decisions and I am not going to let anyone else make them for me," Cooke said, adding that his grades and his 1-year-old son, Anahijae, are the most important factors in his life. "I am not thinking about all of that right now. I am thinking about going out and winning the MVP again."
Cooke said he will not make up his mind until he completes the summer basketball circuit, and at this point he has not even contacted any prep schools. He insists he would be fine not playing competitively for a year.
"It wouldn't be that hard, I would just work on my game everyday," Cooke said. "Also, I could keep my grades up, which is what the schools I am interested in want me to do."
The five leading colleges for Cooke's services are North Carolina, Cincinnati, Miami (Fla.), St. John's, and Ohio State. But the NBA remains a strong possibility for a player who has challenged ABCD alumni Kobe Bryant to play him one-on-one at each of the last two camps.
Cooke, who said the challenges were meant to give him a chance to learn from Bryant, sees the Lakers' star as proof that big men are not the only prep players who can go directly to the NBA.
"I don't think it is harder [for guards], because Kobe did it, so why can't I?" Cooke said. "I'm not saying I am better than Kobe, because I'm not, but if I feel I can handle the competition why shouldn't I go?"
High school entrants Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry were three of the top four picks in last month's NBA Draft. But should the NBA decide to prevent any future high school players from making a similar jump, Cooke said he would have no objections.
"It's up to them," Cooke said. "I really want to go college first so it doesn't matter to me."
That is music to some school's ears, but a lot of things can change a lot in one year. Lenny Cooke should know.
Ray headed to Villanova
Allan Ray, a 6-foot-1 guard from St. Raymond's in the Bronx, announced during camp Monday he will attend Villanova. Ray is ranked as the No. 38 prospect in the Class of 2002 by Oettinger.