Archdeacon: Cook’s towering performance leads Flyer women

Dayton's Makira Cook brings the ball up the court during Tuesday's season opener vs. Alabama A&M at UD Arena. Erik Schelkun/University of Dayton Athletics

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Dayton's Makira Cook brings the ball up the court during Tuesday's season opener vs. Alabama A&M at UD Arena. Erik Schelkun/University of Dayton Athletics

Alabama A & M has got to wish those old Finneytown rules still applied.

When she was five years old, Makira Cook played in a Cincinnati elementary school league. Her team was coached by her uncle, Adam White. She was the smallest player on the team, but soon found herself tethered to some towering restraints.

“She wasn’t any bigger than this,” said White as he stood in the stands at UD Arena Tuesday and bent over so he could hold his hand down to knee level. “But she was always good. From the very start, it was clear she had a special gift.

“But there were times I had to pull her out of a game because we – well she – was scoring so much. She’d take the ball from the other kids. She’d drive and no one could stop her.

“I remember one game her dad and I talked and we decided we had to pull her at the half. But I looked over later at her on the bench and saw she was pouting. I felt bad and finally I said, ‘OK, you can go back in, but you’re not allowed to shoot and you can’t steal the ball anymore’.”

If Shauna Green, the Dayton Flyers women’s coach, had operated under those same rules after Cook’s impressive performance against the Bulldogs Tuesday — if she reigned in her sophomore guard and kept her from scoring those 10 third quarter points and a career-high 23 on the day, A & M may have left UD Arena with a stunning victory instead of a 73-52 defeat in a game that was far closer than that.

A 5-foot-6 sophomore – “maybe 5-5,” she admitted with a smile – Cook was making just the second start of her career and played liked a veteran from the opening tip.

She had to because senior starters Erin Whalen and Kyla Whitehead were stymied in the first half. Although the Flyers had a distinctive height advantage and entered the game as 9.5 point favorites, A & M led at the half, 25-23.

Whalen picked up two fouls in the first 4:49 of the game and sat for the rest of the half. The team’s leading scorer last season was scoreless at the break and had just five points after three quarters, though she did come to life in the fourth quarter and finished with 16 points.

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Dayton's Makira Cook puts up a shot against Alabama A&M during a game at UD Arena on Nov. 9, 2021. Erik Schelkun?University of Dayton Athletics

Credit: Erik Schelkun

Dayton's Makira Cook puts up a shot against Alabama A&M during a game at UD Arena on Nov. 9, 2021. Erik Schelkun?University of Dayton Athletics

Credit: Erik Schelkun

Combined ShapeCaption
Dayton's Makira Cook puts up a shot against Alabama A&M during a game at UD Arena on Nov. 9, 2021. Erik Schelkun?University of Dayton Athletics

Credit: Erik Schelkun

Credit: Erik Schelkun

Whitehead also was scoreless in the first half and finished the game with just two points.

Cook – who led Mount Notre Dame High in Cincinnati to two state titles and a 28-0 senior season cut short by the COVID pandemic – gave UD an answer for almost everything A&M did. She constantly drove the lane and showed an ability to shoot from long range, hitting both her three-point attempts.

She played a game-high 32:55 minutes , made 10 of 18 shots and tied her career high of six rebounds.

Fifth year senior Jenna Giacone added 16 points and 10 rebounds and senior guard Araion Bradshaw had 12 points.

Alabama A & M – which went 10-7 last season – was led by Kierra Johnson-Graham with 14 points and Dariauna Lewis with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

The Bulldogs freshman guard, Quantaijah Huffman, is from Trotwood Madison High, where she was a three-year starter and 1,000 point career scorer. She played eight minutes but was held scoreless.

The star of his game, though, was Cook.

“Honestly I just wanted to win and I did what I had do,” she said. “In the second half our intensity picked up and we started playing together as a team. We just had to play like we always do and pick things up.”

The way Cook played Tuesday was reminiscent of those old Finneytown days.

Green called her an “elite” player and admitted: “I just feel she can score every time she has the ball in her hands.”

Although she shied away from the postgame limelight, Cook doesn’t doubt what she can do now that she’s learning what it means to be a college player.

“I feel today I showed a lot of what I am capable of,” she said.

She talked about her offseason work and the physical and mental maturity that has come. And in the process she’s able to tap into that gift that first showed itself so long ago.

“It doesn’t matter to me, whoever I go against I feel like I can hold my own. I feel like can score,” she said. “We both put in the same work, so I know I just have to go out and do what I can do.”

That was easier said than done last year.

“I don’t think people understand how hard it is for a freshman,” Green said. “The speed of the game, especially at her position. She plays off the ball some, but she’s a point guard and had to understand all the plays.

And she was doing this as a freshman during a global pandemic. It was a hard year for everyone, so the credit goes to her.”

Whalen agreed: “She a great all-around player. As you saw today and we’ve been able to see all summer and all preseason, she’s super aggressive. She’s able to see the flow well. It’s really exciting to have her come in with such strong confidence this season.” The Flyers will need that Friday when perennial powerhouse Duke comes to town for a 7 p.m. game.

“I don’t know if we were just too ramped up and ready for Friday, but we’ve got to play better against them than we did today,” Green said.

“It’s a great opportunity for us. I believe we can compete and come out and win the game. We’ve got a really good program coming into UD Arena. What else could you want as a college student athlete?”

In the case of Cook, nothing now that there are no more Finneytown rules.

“That’s the beauty of this now,” her uncle laughed. “She doesn’t have to worry about any of that now. She can just go out and show that gift.”

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