A day after announcing his decision to return to the University of Iowa for another season, Tyler Cook created almost as many questions as he answered.
Cook told reporters that he plans to change his jersey number from 5 to 25, but he declined to say why.
He said he had a "legitimate" NBA opportunity that made his choice difficult, but he would not specify what that meant.
What Cook did say is that he plans to be a better defender and a better leader and to do everything he can next season to help the Hawkeyes bounce back from their first losing record in seven years.
But he admitted that he struggled with the decision of what to do as he worked out for NBA teams over the past several weeks. He wasn’t really sure until Wednesday morning what he planned to do.
"It was hard," Cook said during a teleconference with reporters. "We had a lot of opportunities both ways, whether to stay in school or stay in the draft. … We just felt like coming back to Iowa was the smart decision to make."
Cook and teammate Isaiah Moss both went through the NBA draft process before opting to return to college. With Moss, it was a foregone conclusion that he would be back at Iowa. In Cook’s case, there were serious doubts right up until a few hours before the NCAA deadline for withdrawing from the draft.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said he wasn’t at all surprised at the way it played out.
"I’m sort of baffled by everybody’s surprise," McCaffery said. "The kid wants to play in the NBA, and I want him to play in the NBA. I want to be part of helping him reach his dream. But he’s intelligent and he has incredible parents, and what they did is go through the process, and they did exactly what they said they were going to do.
"He felt it was in his best interest at this time to come back, and that’s what he said he was going to do all along. If the indications were that he was going to be a first-round pick, he’d be gone, and he should be gone. He should go if he’s a first-round pick. I think everybody over-analyzed what happened. He did exactly what he said he was going to do. Pretty simple."
Cook said he received a crash course in NBA 101 over the past few weeks.
"I learned a lot," he said. "I could talk for hours about the different things I learned, not only about myself but also the process and about what it’s going to take to be a player in the NBA."
He said he found that the actual on-court workouts he did with six teams — Boston, Cleveland, San Antonio, Denver, Brooklyn and Oklahoma City — seemed less important than the interviews that accompanied the workouts.
The teams already had broken down his game from watching video. They seemed more interested in seeing how he carried himself and how he conducted himself in the interviews.
Not surprisingly, part of their critique involved defense. The 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward was told he needs to be able to guard players of any size, from centers to point guards, and needs to continue to work on perimeter shooting.
"When I get there, the chances of me being option 1A are very slim," Cook said. "I’ve got to be able to play whatever role they need me to do. … The common theme was just to be prepared, be ready to do whatever they need me to do."
McCaffery said he knows Cook is the type of person who will take all of the advice he received very seriously.
"He’ll be diligent in his pursuit of his dream, but at the same time he has always put winning above everything," McCaffery said.
"What I think you’re going to see is a guy going into his junior year who really puts the time in on his own to get better, and he’s going to be better than he was last year, just like he was better last year than he was the year before," the coach added. "So if you see those numbers go up again, it’s going to have a great impact on our team’s ability to be successful. … He’s hungry, and he’s ready to go."
McCaffery said Cook already has told him that he wants to be one of the primary leaders of a team that will include just one senior (Bettendorf’s Nicholas Baer) next season.
"He recognizes that we lost 19 games last year," McCaffery said, "and he’s got to be the guy who leads in the locker room, leads in the weight room, leads on the floor. I’ve encouraged him to be that guy."