Charles Cooke had pro basketball in mind when he transferred to Dayton from James Madison University after the 2013-14 season.
“It gave me a chance to be able to rise to my actual potential,” said Cooke, 23, a third-team all-Colonial Athletic Association player during his sophomore year at James Madison. “That was the whole point of the move from JMU to Dayton. More exposure with bigger (name) teams, TV schedule. You put all those things together, you have a good makeup. That is a big part of it.”
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Consider the transfer a success for Cooke, who gained Atlantic 10 Conference honors as both a junior and senior for the Flyers after sitting out the 2014-15 season as a redshirt. Last season he led Dayton in scoring for the second straight year (15.8 points per game) and also led the team in rebounding (5.1 per game).
The 6-foot-5 Cooke went undrafted but signed a two-way deal with the New Orleans Pelicans in August and he made his NBA debut on Oct. 28.
“It was a crazy feeling, to be honest,” said Cooke, sitting at his locker during the Pelicans recent trip to Washington to face the Wizards. “I mean it was good to get there and get a feel. It was definitely a good feeling.”
The product of Trenton, New Jersey had two points and one steal in three minutes of action in his NBA debut against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s the 20th Dayton Flyer to play in the NBA.
“Me going to Dayton and (Cleveland) right up the street, I thought that was pretty cool,” Cooke said.
Cooke came off the bench and scored a career-high four points in four minutes of play in a 116-106 loss to the Wizards on Dec. 19. He has appeared in six games for the Pelicans entering Wednesday’s home game vs. Brooklyn.
The NBA implemented the two-way contract prior to this season. Two-way players will play the majority of the season in the G League but can be called up to their NBA team for a maximum of 45 days during the season. It creates two more roster spots per team but can be a challenge for the player, who bounces between the NBA and the minor-league affiliate in the G League.
Cooke averaged 17.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest in his first 12 G League games, with six starts, with the Greensboro Swarm in North Carolina.
Alvin Gentry, the head coach for the Pelicans, feels Cooke is on the cusp of contributing on a regular basis at the NBA level.
“I just think he is one of those kids who is really, really close to being an NBA player and a guy who can play in the rotation,” Gentry said. “We brought him up (from the G League). He is hard-working kid. Because of that he is going to be able” to get a shot.
The biggest challenge?
“The most difficult thing is the travel probably; it is a lot of games,” Cooke said. “You are playing (about) 32 games in college. I just continue to work on my game.
“I take advice from the (NBA) guys and translate it to the practices and when I am in the G League and when I am here in games.”
Cooke spends a lot of time talking to Pelicans veteran guard Rajon Rondo about life in the NBA.
“Finding a good pace to go out through the season” is key, Cooke said. “With two-way (contracts), a lot of things are up and down. You definitely have these (veteran) guys you can talk to about it. That is a good thing about it.”
Cooke has been able to watch up close the best inside scoring duo in the NBA with New Orleans: Kentucky products DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. They are both averaging more than 20 points per contest.
“It is incredible, incredible. They take great pride in eating right and staying on top of their bodies,” Cooke said. “That is one thing I notice.”
Cooke graduated from Dayton last spring with a degree in communications.
“It was a surreal experience,” he said. “Just to graduate was a crazy deal for me. With my background, a lot of people don’t graduate or anything like that. It was definitely a big-time thing.”
When he was a junior at Dayton he believed he could make the NBA.
“I always knew I could. I wanted to fulfill a lot of things that I knew were there,” he said.
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