IOWA CITY — At one point in the second half of Iowa’s exhibition game against William Jewell College last Friday, Tyler Cook anticipated a pass, stepped in front of it near midcourt and had nothing but open court in front of him.
Iowa’s sophomore forward already was thinking about what sort of bring-down-the-house dunk he was going to do when a William Jewell player reached out and fouled him. The whistle blew, play stopped. No dunk.
"I was pissed," Cook admitted afterward with a grin. "Between my legs or something … it was going to go down."
There will be a next time, probably a lot of next times. One of them may even come tonight when the Hawkeyes host Belmont Abbey in a second preseason exhibition game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
By all accounts, Cook is primed for a huge sophomore season after a freshman campaign in which he averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He is in the best shape of his life, and some feel he is the most improved player on the Iowa roster.
"When he came here, I didn’t think he could surprise me any more than he did with his strength and how high he could jump, but it’s almost doubled this year," fellow sophomore Jordan Bohannon said. "It’s unreal how much more athletic he’s gotten."
Cook’s development goes beyond athleticism. He has developed as a perimeter shooter and as a shot-blocker, too.
"He’s just been a monster," Bohannon said. "He’s been working on his mid-range game. He can really shoot the ball from 3 now, and I think that’s going to open up everyone else’s games knowing they need to come out on him at the 3-point line now."
The 6-foot-9, 255-pound Cook didn’t get much chance to show off his improved perimeter shooting in the exhibition win over William Jewell, although he scored 16 points, making five of seven shots from the field and six of eight from the foul line.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said there were times last season when Cook just got into too much of a hurry on the court.
"Sometimes his turnover numbers were a little bit higher, but I think what you're going to see is a guy who has much better pace to his game right now," McCaffery said. "He's really matured. I've been very impressed with him. He's an incredible worker.
"He's got the frame obviously to dominate a game. We saw him dominate games last year, but now I think what you're seeing is a guy that's shooting the ball better from the outside, handling the ball and passing it really well. He always had that skill, but sometimes he would go too fast or go too soon and turn it over. He's not doing that."
Cook showed better patience as his freshman season went on. He made his last 18 field goal attempts of the season, including eight dunks, but he said he has taken that to a much higher level now.
"I think I’ve just become a much smarter basketball player," he said. "I think my pace for the game is so much better than just a few months ago. I’m just getting to my spots a lot easier, and I’m making shots, which always helps. … My IQ for the game is just so much better than it was a year ago."
He said that improved feel for the game carries over to the defensive end. He had only 11 blocked shots in his freshman year — a surprisingly low total for a post player with extreme jumping ability — but he had two rejections in the first exhibition.
Cook said his development in that area has been aided by the addition of 6-11 freshmen Luka Garza and Jack Nunge, whom he described as "natural shot-blockers."
"I’ve even learned from them how to time shots and read when the ball is going to be at the rim," Cook said.
It’s all added up to making him a much more complete player, not just a big-bodied dunk artist.
"He’s just starting to turn into an NBA-type player," Bohannon said, "and that’s obviously where he wants to go so that’s huge for him."