In the spring of 2014, less than a week after a run to the Elite Eight, Dayton Flyers assistant coach Kevin Kuwik found himself at the NCAA coaches convention in Dallas during the Final Four.
The Flyers had just finished their most successful NCAA tournament in 30 years, and the work didn’t stop. They knew they were losing three key players from that team — Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford and Matt Kavanaugh — and they were about to lose two more players but didn’t know it at the time. Khari Price and Alex Gavrilovic would transfer that spring.
Sanford transferred to Dayton after two seasons at Georgetown and hit one of the most famous shots in UD history that March, a bank shot with seconds to play to beat Ohio State in the first round of the big dance. Another transfer, Jordan Sibert, who played two seasons at Ohio State, led the Flyers in scoring in 2013-14.
“We had such good luck with Vee and with Jordan,” Kuwik said. “We were basically trying to look a year ahead. Hey, Jordan’s going to be graduating a year from now and rather than bringing in a high school kid …. maybe we can get an experienced guy that could sit out for a year and then hopefully step into his type of role. That would be ideal.”
That’s the beginning of the story that led to Charles Cooke coming to Dayton. The 6-foot-5 guard from Trenton, N.J., transferred from James Madison after two seasons, sat out the 2014-15 season and led the Flyers in scoring as a junior last season (15.5 points per game). He’ll be a contender for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year as a senior.
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Dayton didn’t recruit Cooke out of high school, Kuwik said, and Cooke almost ended up at St. Joseph’s but the Hawks got a commitment from Isaiah Miles. Cooke went to James Madison instead.
Kuwik first heard Cooke was transferring from a friend. He happened to have another friend, Rob O’Driscoll, who was an assistant coach at James Madison.
“I talked to him about Charles a bunch,” Kuwik said. “Obviously, it was a little bit awkward because they didn’t want Charles to leave. But he gave me some really good insights into Charles and his family and his game and where he was. I still remember walking to the championship game in Dallas with my brothers and talking to (Cooke’s) dad and texting with his dad and Charles. I still have a text from Charles that day about our spot and what a good fit he would be. I just felt we had a good connection.”
Dayton recruited a number of players, such as Wake Forest’s Tyler Kavanaugh, who ended up at George Washington, that spring. Kuwik joked they had a million visits.
“Charles had finished up school and made sure he got the grades he needed to get,” Kuwik said. “He didn’t visit until the end of May or early June. I want to say we talked to him for six or seven weeks before he visited. He was talking to Rhode Island and Duquesne and Michigan State. Some days you felt good and thought, ‘Oh, we’ve got a great chance.’ Some days, you felt you were never going to get him.”
Cooke visited Dayton on June 1. Watching Miller put the Flyers through a team workout opened Cooke’s eyes, Kuwik said. He knew immediately he wanted to play for a team that works as hard as the Flyers do. Kuwik called Cooke a gym rat.
“He came out and had a great visit with his family,” Kuwik said. “He had a great time. He connected with our guys really well. He was going to go to Rhode Island the next weekend and ended up calling Archie in the middle of the week and said, ‘Hey coach I don’t need to see Rhode Island. You guys recruited me the right way, and it’s a great opportunity. I’m excited to come here and be a Flyer.’ He committed and cancelled that visit. Obviously, that was very exciting. He was in summer school like three weeks later.”
Cooke averaged 14.8 points per game as a sophomore at James Madison but struggled from 3-point range, shooting 29.8 percent. Last season, he shot 39.6 percent from long range.
“I still remember back to his visit,” Kuwik said, “and Archie showing Charles video and saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do with you physically development-wise, and this is what we’re going to do with you on the court development-wise.’ Probably the biggest knock on Charles and probably why his recruiting wasn’t as high is his 3-point percentage at James Madison was in the mid-20s, and people said he’s not a shooter. Archie took him through what we do shooting wise, and that’s probably the one thing the Miller family takes more pride in than anything: development but especially shooting.”