Barrett, Brown and Cook have played hundreds of games, almost always at the point, running the show. The three have actually played on the same team, too—in the fall before their senior seasons, during a tournament at I.S. 8 in Queens. "Taliek was the scorer," says Cook. "Dre was the shooter. I was the passer."
So how did they do? "We lost," Barrett says.
"Not enough big guys," says Brown.
None of the three freshmen gets old blood racing the way Cook does. Approach Howard Garfinkel, the impresario of the Five-Star Basketball Camp for the last 34 years, and first he lays down the caveat that he never saw Bob Cousy or Dick McGuire, New Yorkers both, play in high school. That posited, he calls Cook "the greatest passer at his age I've ever seen."
Cook is 6'1", with a tapered torso. At Christ the King High in Middle Village, Queens, he broke the career assists record of Erick Barkley, the guard who left St. John's for the NBA last spring after his junior season. "Most guards are scorers first and passers second," says Konchalski, who has run his HSBI Scouting Service for 16 years and has followed the city game for more than twice that long. "Omar is a passer first. He has an Oscar Robertson-type body, great touch and enough strength to throw any pass. But his biggest improvement from his junior to senior years was how he started to finish plays himself instead of always looking to pass."
Two things will determine whether Cook becomes a great player. First, he needs to improve his shooting. "He's a lazy shooter," Konchalski says. "He doesn't get his legs into his shot enough, and he doesn't shoot the same way every time." (Despite those flaws, however, Cook made 5 of 11 three-pointers while scoring 18 points in St. John's season opening 62-61 win over Kentucky.) Second, he has to keep his head. He finished his career at Christ the King on the bench, sitting out a two-game suspension for bumping an official. "It was a shame, because he's not a bad kid," says Konchalski. "He had an 82 average and did his homework, and his mom made him go to church on Sunday. He needs to learn to channel his emotions. But I'll say this: He wants to be a great player."
In build and demeanor, even in the shape of his face, Brown invites comparisons to fellow New Yorker Vinnie Johnson, the heat-up-in-a-hurry Detroit Piston who was no playmaker. At 6' 1", Brown has lively feet and broad shoulders. "Taliek probably has the greatest appetite for the game of the three," Konchalski says. "He's a good penetrator with a low crossover dribble, and he's a very good finisher in the open court, although he was hurt by playing against lesser competition in high school [at St. John's Prep in Astoria, Queens]."
Over the summer, as he prepared to move into the position vacated by Khalid El-Amin at UConn, Brown worked out and studied video in Houston with Smith, a former neighbor in the Lefrak City apartment complex. ( Kenny Anderson of the Boston Celtics grew up in the same apartment building as Smith, which raises the notion that some sort of covenant in the standard Lefrak renter's contract pertains to point-guard competency.) "Kenny told Taliek, "Be ready when you go to UConn,' " Dave Brown says, "not 'Get ready when you go to UConn.' "
Then there's Barrett, who stands only 5' 8" but makes up for his diminutiveness with end line-to-end line speed. Alone among the three New York point guards, he won a city title, as a junior at Manhattan's Rice High. Seton Hall coach and former Duke point guard Tommy Amaker "fell in love with Andre because he saw a lot of himself in him," Konchalski says, "and Andre chose Seton Hall because he saw a lot of himself in Tommy. Andre's a compromise between the other two—he's not the passer Omar is and not the scorer Taliek is—but he has an elegant feel for the game to go with a better outside shot than either of them. And he probably has the most even temper. He's quiet by nature. He needs to become a little more vocal."