Kendall Marshall had almost as many assists per game as the entire Duke basketball team last season. The North Carolina alumnus and current Phoenix Sun doled out 9.8 assists per game while the entirety of the Duke roster managed just 12.4.
The root of the team’s passing deficiencies could be improper personnel. During the past couple seasons, Duke has employed a number of combo guards to run the offense without a true floor general. The list of miscast shooting guards is a long one: Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, Seth Curry, Austin Rivers—the list goes on. The combo guard trend has been around for years in Durham, but last season was a new low—the last time the Blue Devils averaged fewer than 12.4 per game was their 10.5 per game mark in the 1981-1982 season. The 2010-11 edition of Duke basketball managed 14.2 assists per contest, and the 2009-10 club tallied 13.7. After last year’s season ended in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 64, the signs indicating a need for change were plentiful.
Enter Quinn Cook, who has been handed the reins as this year’s starting point guard after limited action in his freshman season. The 6-foot-1 sophomore from Washington, D.C. is Duke’s first true point guard in recent memory with the potential to match the production of Chris Duhon, who graduated following the 2003-04 season with a championship ring on his finger.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski could have given the starting job to standout freshman combo guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who possesses potential as both a lockdown defender and deadly shooter, or junior guard and defensive ace Tyler Thornton. Instead he decided that it is Cook’s time to shine under the bright lights of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“Point-guard play will be critical for conference play,” Krzyzewski said. “Quinn has been really good.”
Cook knows the magnitude of his assignment.
“Being the starting point guard, being named that position, it’s a lot of expectations, and Coach believes in me,” Cook said.
Entering his freshman season, Cook did not have the opportunity to showcase his skill set in the offseason. He missed the summer trip to China as well as fall practices with a knee injury, which may have made it difficult for him to break into the rotation by affecting the way his coach and teammates saw him as a fit for the team.
“I don’t think [Krzyzewski] believed in me last year,” Cook said. “I feel as though he believes in me this year, and my teammates believe in me. Just to have those guys’ confidences is definitely different from last year.”
The program’s support of Cook as the starting point guard is not unwarranted, though, as he has the skills to back it up.
“[I’m] somebody who’s pass-first, who gets other guys involved, takes the pressure off the defense with his ability to make open shots as well, and just a leader,” the point guard said.
Cook joked about the difference between him and last year’s pair of combo guards who shared the ball-handling duties, Curry and Rivers.
“I don’t have the height like Seth and Austin have, so I was kind of forced to be a point guard all my life,” he said. “For me, just being a point guard all my life, [I’m] able to get everybody the ball.”
What Cook might not realize is his statistical superiority to Curry and Rivers as a point guard. On the surface, the sophomore’s 1.9 assists per game last season were unimpressive and another contributor to Duke’s mediocre assist total. When probed further however, Cook is statistically the best facilitator since the days of Duhon and Jason Williams.
Extrapolated over 40 minutes—Cook averaged just 11.7 minutes last season—Cook had 6.5 helpers per game, the highest figure since Duhon’s senior campaign and a figure higher than the one Williams posted in his final season at Duke.
Cook, like Duhon and Williams before him, has the luxury of a coach who knows a thing or two about point guard play, having been one himself and having coached the world’s best passers at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“I talked to [Krzyzewski] a lot this summer. One thing he tells me about [Team USA point guards] Chris Paul and Deron Williams is they’re tough. They brought it every day,” Cook said. “To be a leader, to be the point guard, I’ve got to be tough. I have to bring it everyday.”
Cook has the talent, he has the trust of his teammates and his coach, and he has a year of experience and knowledge. Now he has to go out when the season tips off Nov. 9 against Georgia State and prove that he can translate his potential into performance.
“That’s one of my goals—just to be where they’re at. I feel like I can do that with the skills... that I have,” Cook said.