Iowa Minnesota Basketball

Iowa's Tyler Cook (25) dunks in front of Minnesota's Jordan Murphy (3) and Eric Curry (24) during a Jan. 27 game.

There is nothing like the early departure of a star college athlete for the pro ranks to bring out the worst in fans.

Or to bring out the worst fans.

This happened to Iowa tight end Noah Fant a few months ago when he decided to forego his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. And the reaction was even more savage when it was first reported that Hawkeye basketball player Tyler Cook planned to put his name into the NBA draft this spring with no plans to return to college.

Some fans were supportive on social media. Some expressed genuine gratitude to Cook for his efforts over the past three years. Some totally embarrassed themselves.

A few samples of the Twitter venom that ensued:

--“Tyler Cook isn’t ready to play at my local YMCA.’’

--“C-ya stone hands ... good luck in the Developmental League ... you could have used another year of college playing to hone your skills.’’

--“Tyler Cook declaring for the G league early.’’

--“Tyler Cook is average and he didn’t give great effort in many games this year. Glad he’s gone.’’

The first part of that last tweet is totally false, as is almost everything else embodied in those comments. There was no shortage of effort on Cook’s part during the past season and he was a long way from average.

Cook, who finally confirmed his plans on Friday, probably was a victim of unrealistic expectations. At 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds, he quite possibly was the most impressive physical specimen ever to wear an Iowa uniform.

He averaged 12.3 points per game as a freshman and 15.3 as a sophomore, including an astonishing 60 dunks, most of them of the spectacular variety.

When he came back for his junior season after a flirtation with the NBA last spring, some Hawkeyes fans undoubtedly expected him to be among the best players in the country.

His scoring actually dipped slightly (to 14.5) but he was much more consistent as a rebounder, more accomplished as a passer and facilitator and vastly improved defensively. There were many games, including the Hawkeyes’ two NCAA tournament games, in which he was assigned to guard the opposing team’s best player.

Perhaps the biggest step Cook made between his sophomore and junior seasons was in terms of leadership. He was the most effusive and effective leader on the team.

You could see that in the second half of the Hawkeyes’ loss to Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA tournament. They trailed by as much as 25 points in the first half and were down by 21 at halftime, but Cook was the catalyst of a second-half rally that sent the game to overtime.

He never became the perimeter shooting threat many hoped he would be — he was 3 for 21 from 3-point range in his career — and that might be what keeps him from becoming a star at the next level, but he made great strides every year he played for the Hawkeyes.

His work ethic was exemplary. He was always positive, always upbeat. He was a class act. After a tough loss, you could always count on Cook to brave the gauntlet of reporters with poise and candor.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone could begrudge a guy like that the opportunity to chase his dreams.

Cook has an NBA body and NBA athleticism, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him find some sort of niche in the best basketball league in the world.

To be honest, I’m not sure that another year of college would drastically change Cook’s draft potential. This probably is the best time for him to take the plunge.

Players going into the NBA after four years of college almost seem to be lesser prospects these days because they’re older and are not viewed as having as big an upside.

The Hawkeyes still have the makings of a very good team for next season. However, those idiotic fans who are saying they’re glad Cook is gone presumably will see at some point how wrong they are.

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