It’s not often, if ever, that a young basketball prodigy such as Walker High’s Jalen Cook gets to occupy the same space as one the greatest basketball stars currently gracing the planet.
For three star-struck days, Cook had such an experience during last week’s Sixth Annual Steph Curry’s SC30 Elite Camp in Oakland, Calif.
In the basketball galaxy that is Cook’s world, Curry would be a part of Cook’s own personal Mt. Rushmore of iconic players – a group that would include Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
“They’ve been through everything I want to go through in the game of basketball,” Cook said. “It was cool. Knowing he’s (Curry) where I want to be. I really look up to him.”
Cook was one of 33 players from across the country to be included to the invite-only event given by Curry, a three-time NBA world champion with the Golden State Warriors and twice the league’s Most Valuable Player.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Cook said. “You see him on TV and I got to meet him and not a lot of kids get to do that. I was blessed. He’s a real cool, down to earth guy. He wasn’t flashy or cocky. When you see him, you weren’t like ‘wow’. It was more like, ‘what’s up Steph’. He acted like a totally normal person.”
Golden State began the transformation process to elite franchise a decade ago by drafting the slight-of-build Curry – a 6-foot-3 guard from Davidson College – with the seventh overall selection.
The Warriors and the NBA haven’t been the same since.
Curry has been credited league-wide for revolutionizing the guard position with his long-distance shooting, a part of his game that’s helped result in six NBA All-Star games and was the league scoring champion in 2016.
He’s averaged 23.5 points during his career, is the league’s career leader in free throw shooting (90.5) percent and is the fastest player in NBA to reach 2,000 career 3-pointers.
Oh yeah, he’s also known for his ball-handling skills and passing, making the Curry arguably the best player Cook could learn from to impact his own burgeoning game that’s ticketed to continue at LSU next season.
“I got some moves from him,” Cook said of Curry’s influence at the camp. “He showed how to get spacing from players (defenders) off the dribble. How my shoulders need to be when I’m running to go and shoot. Just little tweaks we can add in our game to be like him.”
It’s also an example of Cook’s unwillingness to remain stagnant after achieving two of his home state’s greatest awards for the 2018-19 season – Gatorade Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball.
Moreover, Cook was voted the All-Parish MVP for the third straight year, the All-District 4-5A MVP and was chosen the Outstanding Player at the Marsh Madness state tournament where Walker finished as the state runner-up.
Cook would love nothing more than to cap his high school career with a second Class 5A championship, a feat that he was first able to accomplish two years ago.
Such camps, like participating in June’s NBPA Top 100 even in Charlottesville, Va., are recognized by Cook as tools to improve as a player, choosing to work on parts of his game with one obvious goal in mind.
The fact that Cook gets the opportunity to do it under the watchful of eyes as revered mentors such as Curry, along with playing with and against some of the nation’s top players, can prove to be an invaluable experience.
Curry extended hands-on instruction to each of the players assembled at his camp; spoke at length to them about trying to balance their growth on and off the court and featured on-court training and competition sessions.
The collection of talent was evenly divided into two teams for an “all-star” game where based on video accounts, Cook showed off his “Curry-like” range with several step-back 3-point baskets to the approval of the camp’s namesake.
From a player’s perspective there was an additional perk of clothing apparel, courtesy of Under Armour, which helped boost Cook’s staggering collection of basketball shoes by five pair.
There were also memories derived away from the floor, including a cookout at the player’s hotel that further fostered relationships, along with a community outreach endeavor in which they went to a local park, with Curry, and to enjoy an evening playing basketball with a group of kids.
“I knew these camps existed, but to achieve them was a blessing,” Cook said. “I had to go out and grind for it every year. I thank God, my dad and all of the people that helped me. It set up all of this.”