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Quinn Cook is Duke basketball's secret ingredient

Senior captain Quinn Cook is averaging career highs in field goal, free throw and three-point percentage and has been held to single digits just three times all season.
Senior captain Quinn Cook is averaging career highs in field goal, free throw and three-point percentage and has been held to single digits just three times all season.

When Quinn Cook came to Duke, he was an afterthought in a star-studded five-man freshman class that was expected to be one of the Blue Devils' best in years.

Austin Rivers was the heralded superstar. Alex Murphy was regarded as the guy who could have the biggest NBA upside. Marshall Plumlee was the long-awaited end of his family's Duke trilogy.

Cook came to Duke as a quiet point guard searching for his place within the program. Four years later, the wiry senior from Washington, D.C., is the last man standing. The Blue Devil captain will be the only member of his five-man recruiting class to be honored Wednesday night when the Blue Devils play their last home game of the season against Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Forward Michael Gbinije was the first member of Duke's 2011 recruiting class to go, transferring to Syracuse before the end of his freshman year. Rivers followed later that spring, making the jump to the NBA, where he was drafted 10th overall by New Orleans.

Cook's two remaining freshman classmates, Murphy and Plumlee, both redshirted. Murphy played for just one-and-a-half seasons before transferring to Florida December 2013. Plumlee has one year of eligibility remaining and will play next year.

Graduation is sometimes viewed as a failure in today's college basketball world. With more and more players leaving school after one, two or three years to optimize their draft stock, 22-year-old NBA draft picks are sometimes viewed by teams as too old. Cook is anything but a failure. In the one-and-done era, he is a college basketball success story.

During his four years in Durham, Cook's game has undergone a complete transformation. His sophomore season was when he flourished as a distributor, averaging a career-high 5.3 assists per game. As a junior, Cook struggled to find a comfortable role with Jabari Parker dominating the ball on offense and Tyler Thornton competing for minutes at the point guard position.

Knowing that the Blue Devils were bringing in a talented floor general in freshman Tyus Jones, Cook brought a markedly improved 3-point shot back to Duke for his senior season and has learned to be just as dangerous—if not more—playing off the ball than on it. For the first time in his career, Cook is hitting more than 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and is the team's second-leading scorer at 15.9 points per game.

But perhaps more striking than the ways Cook has grown on the court is the way he's grown off of it. Once shy when surrounded by cameras and microphones, the veteran is an eloquent speaker and is one of the team's go-to quotes for media members.

As a junior, Cook was passed over for Duke's vacant captaincy in favor of redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood—who had been with the team for just one year and had never suited up for a game with the Blue Devils. Taking it as a major wake-up call, Cook strove to become the leader his team needed and has since delivered.

Captaining the Duke team as a senior, Cook has been responsible for the mentorship of the Blue Devils' four freshmen, which comprise half of the team's rotation. As a result, this year's Duke squad has a level of chemistry that the teams of Cook's freshman and junior seasons—also led by high-profile freshmen—lacked. That the Blue Devils are poised to post their best regular-season record in Cook's four seasons is no coincidence.

There's no question that Jahlil Okafor is Duke's best player. Justise Winslow is the team's most talented player. But as a steadying force on the court and an emotional leader off of it, Cook is the Blue Devils' most valuable player.

At Duke, even the most breathtaking talents come and go year after year. In the age of one-and-dones, they just don't make players like Quinn Cook anymore.

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