When it comes to basketball, there is little her son does anymore that surprises her.
But this did.
“Yeah, bless his little heart, he grew himself a beard,” Renae Cook said of her son Daequan. “He looks like one of the Iranians now. He blends in good.”
At the moment Daequan Cook needs more than a thatch of facial hair to do that.
The 29-year-old shooting guard — a product of Dunbar High School and Ohio State before he began what’s become a 10-year pro career — now plays for Chemidor Tehran in the Iranian Basketball Super League.
Through the years: Daequan Cook, Dunbar graduate now playing basketball for Iran
He leads the league in scoring, averaging 23.4 points per game.
And along with his present feats, he stands out because of his past.
He was a first-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2007 NBA draft and over the next six seasons played in 374 regular and postseason games with the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls.
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With the Heat in 2009, he won the three-point shootout at the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in Phoenix. Three years later he played in the NBA Finals with Oklahoma City.
Yet even with all that pedigree, it’s because of his passport that he really stands out now in Iran.
He is an American — one of 13 in the league.
And over the past nine days, the tension has amped up between U.S. President Donald Trump and the leaders of Iran.
First came Trump’s executive order that migrants, refugees, U.S. legal residents and dual nationals from Iran and six other predominately Muslim countries could be subject to a 90-day ban entering or returning to the United States.
In response, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani criticized the Trump directive, saying, “Banning visas for other nations is the act of a newcomer to the political scene.”
Soon, though, Iran announced it would tighten its borders to U.S. citizens. Within a day, the stance softened a bit on both sides, but this past Wednesday, Iran announced it had conducted a ballistic missile test.
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While launching the medium-range Shahab missile did not violate the 2015 nuclear deal between the nations because missiles are not part of the pact and it wasn’t a violation of a UN resolution calling for (but not mandating) Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles, it was seen as a provocative move.
Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, citing other troubling actions of late by Iraq, then announced, “We are officially putting Iran on notice.”
Finally, this past Friday. Trump ordered sanctions against Iran that targeted 25 individuals and companies and resembled the moves made by the Obama administration after previous tests.
In return, Iran barred the U.S wrestling team from competing in the Freestyle Wrestling World Cup in Kermanshah, Iran later this month.
When the tit-for-tat squabble was ramping up, Cook happened to be back in Dayton for a few days’ respite during the Super League’s mid-season break.
He spent time with his two children here — 11-year-old daughter Jaykia and 4-year-old son Champ — and worked out daily at the University of Dayton. He also returned to his alma mater to watch Dunbar beat Belmont.
“He was just ready to leave when Trump put out all those ‘stop to this’ and ‘stop to that’ orders,” Renae said. “He called me and said, ‘Mom, you hear what’s happening?’
“He was kind of concerned — he didn’t want to get caught up in all that stuff — so he called his agency, but they thought he’d be all right because his visa was OK.”
Two of the other Americans playing in Iran — Joseph Jones out of Texas A&M and J.P. Prince, who played at Arizona and Tennessee — had gone to Dubai during the break. Their team, Azad University Tehran, had sponsored the vacation and while there, the pair was planning to renew their visas, which had expired.
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At first it was reported they were stranded in Dubai because of Iran’s response to the U.S. ban, but it turned out to be as much of a paperwork problem as anything
Cooke got back to Tehran last Sunday.
“His agency assured me they’d take care of him, but as a mother you still worry,” Renae said. “I try to take them at their word because I have nothing else to go on. I told them, ‘Your word is your bond. You’re telling me you’re going to take care of my son and I believe you.’
“And for Daequan, this is about doing what he’s best at doing. He wants a chance to play and he’s getting that over there. If he had to go across the moon to play, I believe he would.”
Finding his way
In the beginning, Westwood Park on Oakridge Drive in West Dayton looked just as exotic to 5-year-old Daequan as Iran does to him now.
“I remember he found an old ball down at the park,” Renae chuckled. “It was kinda flat, but he carried that ball everywhere with him. Finally we got him a real ball of his own.
“Back in the day, I remember my dad — he and my mom lived on Hoover (Avenue) — put a rim up on the back of his garage. In those days they didn’t have those (portable) hoops you could just roll out, so you mounted it on the garage and then tore that up.”
Daequan was called Pooh then — his grandmother thought he looked like Winnie the Pooh — and Renae recalled him struggling to shoot at that backyard hoop.
“He was real little and he’d bounce the ball and bounce the ball and then he’d try to throw it up to the rim,” she said. “He’d keep trying and trying and eventually he could make it.
“When he got a little older, he’d go on to Westwood Park, that’s where the big boys played. He’d kind of be in their way and at first they chased him off.
“So when they’d run to the other end of the court, he’d run out quick and shoot at the basket they just left. And when they came back, he’d go to the other end.”
By sixth grade no one was chasing Cook, who was considered Ohio’s top age-group player. When he got to eighth grade, he got his first college recruiting letter and by the time he was a junior at Dunbar he was rated the top shooting guard in the nation, at least by one prominent publication.
He led Dunbar to back-to-back trips to the Division II state tournament and the title as a senior.
Sought by most of the major college programs. Cook chose Ohio State, where he became part of Thad Matt’s fabled recruiting class dubbed “The Thad Five.”
Averaging 10.7 points a game for the Buckeyes as a freshman, he jumped to the NBA immediately after that 2006-07 season.
While he came off the bench most of his NBA career, he’s been a high-scoring star since moving overseas.
Playing for SPO Rouen Basket of the French LNB Pro A league two seasons ago, he finished the year averaging 15.8 points, fifth-best in the league. Last season he averaged 17.8 points for Sport Lisbia Benefica, fourth-best in Portugal’s top league. Playing for the team in the FIBA Eurocup, he averaged 20.
Now he’s tops in Iran.
“He’s getting a chance now and he’s really playing well,” Renae said. “He’s just doing what we always knew he could.”
Although the Iranian league started in October, Cook didn’t join Chemidor Tehran until December. His mom said he adjusted quickly:
“He’s the kind of kid who can deal with whatever. He’s been doing this awhile now and knows how to get along.”
On his Twitter account, @DC4Three, Cook posted a photo of himself and his teammates at a café in Abadan, Iran and the tweet: “Out here in these #IranStreets with my teammates touring #TheCity.”
On Christmas Eve he sent out a photo of him and his teammates, most of whom are Muslim, with the message: “#Merry Christmas Here In Iran From The Team #Chemidor Basketball #Family Away From Home @ Tehran Iran.”
Of the Americans playing in the Super League, Prince has been the one most outspoken about the past nine days.
As reported by the Associated Press, he said banning people from the U.S. because of race or religion is “anti-American.”
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The 29-year-old Prince, who has played in Turkey, China, Venezuela, Poland, Belgium, France and now Iran, said if he could give Trump a suggestion it would be: “Just have an open mind and know how special America is to the world.”
He said people go to America for a better life:
“That’s what America is built on, so you don’t want to deny anybody that opportunity because some of our greatest leaders and people from America are immigrants.”
Renae said her son appreciates playing overseas: “He’s getting to see parts of the world some people never see in a lifetime.
“As much as possible I try to tell him I love him and I’m proud of him. Proud of what he’s accomplished and what I know he still will accomplish.”
There’s an 8 1/2-hour time difference between Tehran and Dayton and Renae said she and her son talk regularly using the WhatsApp on their phones.
“ When he played in Portugal I went to see him,” she said. “But Iran, I don’t think so. Especially now. I’m gonna stand down on Iran.”
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