HELENA — Nicknamed “The Puma” by his teammates and coaches, Servite High School’s Andrew Cook found a home earlier this week with Carroll to continue his basketball career at the collegiate level.
“He’s almost a 4.0 [GPA] student, so we love that about him,” Saints head coach Kurt Paulson said of Cook. “Then he brings a lot because he’s really versatile. He can play point guard, he can play wing, he can play power forward, he’s just a basketball player...We like those kinds of kids who are versatile like you can put them at a few [different] positions, I think that helps you. Andrew can definitely fill that role of being versatile.”
Cook does not know where his nickname came from, it just popped up one day during practice, but he does know exactly where the skillset and athleticism he displays on film comes from. Many hours of hard work in the weight room has turned Cook into a rim-rocking 6-foot-4 scoring machine on the basketball court.
“The thing I like the most about Andrew is his ability to get to the rim,” Paulson said. “He’s going to be able to get by people and then go score at the rim, he’s really crafty getting in there...He’s got a good feel. I think down the road we can run a lot of offense through him in some capacity...To be honest, I don’t know where I’m going to play him. It could change year-by-year as our roster changes. His role is probably going to be different every year he’s here.”
Cook said he considers himself a combo guard with the ability to handle the ball and also put it in the basket. Through about half of his senior season at Servite in Anaheim, California, Cook is averaging better than 21 points per game, a number that put him among the top-15 scorers in the state of California at the high school level.
Earlier this season, Cook had his scoring average up over 26 points per game and was pacing the state in that category. Back in March, Cook scored a career-high 47 points against La Habra on the back of five made 3-pointers, falling just two points short of tying a school record.
“I can score from all three levels and I think I have pretty good instincts on the defensive side of the ball,” Cook said. “Mainly, I just want to win and Carroll has a tremendous record of winning games. I’ve already talked to some of the players and I think we all have that same goal that we all want to win a national championship next year.”
Having shot the 3-ball around 20 percent as a junior, Cook credits some time in the gym last off-season for his 40 percent shooting effort from that range this season. His ability to get to the rim and oftentimes finish above it has helped push his field goal percentage over 50 percent this season.
Cook is Carroll’s first commit of the 2021 class from the state of California and will join Ifeanyi Okeke on the roster from that part of the country. A big target for the Saints during this recruiting cycle, Cook has been on Carroll’s radar since last August.
It was around that same time that Paulson hired California native and former Director of California’s Elite Basketball Circuit in Ronn See. See, who was an assistant at Caltech for a handful of seasons and worked with Open Gym Premier in Anaheim helping run large-scale camps for high school age basketball players, brought with him to Carroll an extensive knowledge of the prep basketball landscape in the area.
While the Saints were aware of Cook even before See’s hire, it was his connections with Servite head coach John Morris from those camps that helped close the deal on “The Puma.”
“I’m going to give Ronn credit on this one,” Paulson said. “He’s got good connections down there for us...Ronn did a lot of work in California in the basketball circles before he got up here and he’s got a really good reputation down there and he pretty much sealed the deal getting Andrew up here with his connections.”
After watching some Carroll games during the season, Cook visited the campus last weekend, spending Saturday and Sunday soaking in all the school had to offer. He flew back to California on Monday with his family, signed that morning and dropped 17 points in a high school game that night.
“What I liked most was the outreach of all the people,” Cook said. “Everybody was really, really nice and everybody was reaching out to me. When I went to visit Saturday morning, that prior Thursday, the president said that he was excited to finally meet me. I thought that was pretty cool. I just had a really great trip. It felt like a family atmosphere, and while I was there, the whole time I could really see myself there.”
Despite some interest from Division I teams, Cook chose the NAIA route with a desire to make an impact with a team right away. Coming from the Trinity League in California, and from a state that implements a shot clock in the high school ranks, Cook will be more ready than most to make the jump to the collegiate level.
“That league is pretty serious, he’s played some good competition,” See said. “Devin Askew, who’s at Texas now, he was guarding him last year. Jake Kyman, who is at UCLA, Max Agbonkpolo is at USC, Andrew played against all these guys. He’s played against some high-level talent, so I think the transition to the college game will be good for him.”
Cook’s commitment represents Carroll’s first from California with See on the coaching staff. With both his and Paulson’s connections in the area, however, do not expect it to be the last.
“We’re a pretty good team on the recruiting front,” See said. “I have a lot of ties throughout the West Coast, so we just kinda play off of each other...I think between both our contacts we make a pretty good team. We both just play off each other a little bit.”
As the Saints continue to build toward their ultimate goal of winning a national championship, opening up the state of California and all it has to offer in the realm of recruiting will be a big step for Carroll. See’s in-depth connections will only help with that, but what Carroll brings to the table also plays a role in landing those out-of-state recruits.
“I think it’s huge,” See said of the Saints’ reach into California. “Carroll kinda speaks for itself, it’s an easy sell when you get a kid up here. The campus is beautiful, our guys are great. Just being around the guys is enough to sell it, but you also get the faith piece and the high academic piece. Carroll is kind of a no-brainer, especially for the kids that want to get out of California and want to experience a different type of environment.”
Coming into the program, Cook is the type of player teams can build around, and paired with some of the other players in this recruiting class and those already on the roster, can help the Saints capture their goals.
Cook said he plans to attend the Saints’ team camps in June and July and will be an Education major at Carroll.