Omar Cook(Movistar Estudiantes Madrid) I Got A Raw Deal In The NBA And It Was Hard To Be Yourself When You Were Always Afraid To Mess Up

Omar Cook is a 37 year old 186cm guard that is playing his 18th professional season and third with Movistar Estudiantes Madrid (ACB). He has had a stellar professional career winning titles in Belgium and Montenegro. He played seven seasons in the Spanish ACB and also played in countries like Lithuania, Italy, Serbia and France for teams like KK Buducnost Voli Podgorica, Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, EA7 Emporio Armani Milano, Caja Laboral Vitoria Valencia B.C, Unicaja Malaga, KK Crvena Zvezda Beograd, CSK VVS Samara, Strasbourg IG and Dexia Mons-Hainaut. He has played 90 Euroleague games and also played 22 NBA games between 2003-2005 with Portland and Toronto. He was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 2001 in the second round at position 32. He began his basketball career at Christ the King HS and played a season at St.John’s (NCAA) playing 29 games averaging 15.3ppg, 3.0rpg, AssistsNCAA-2 (8.7apg), 2.3spg, FGP: 36.0%, 3PT: 30.9%, FT: 74.2%: His 252 assists set a freshman school record, previously held by Erick Barkley and ranks second on the all-time single-season chart. He spoke to recently about his basketball career.

Omar thanks for talking to I could only find your game stats dating back to the 2008-2009 season. You played some seasons of international team basketball. You have played so many games, but hardly against German teams. Last season you split with medi Bayreuth. Do you remember playing against German teams early in your career?

I think last season was the 1st time I played against a German team. 

You have spent many years in Europe and currently are in your 14th season in Europe. What has been your general impression of German basketball and how it has developed over the years?

Before I came to Europe one of my best friends growing up he played in Germany. His name is Brian Brown. So he would always talk about the German league. Also I played with sand against Julius Jenkins. So I know he played in Germany many years. I think the German league has grown a lot the past few years with the Addition of Munich becoming a power team. Your have Bamberg and Alba as well. And it’s other great German teams who play in the other European competitions. But I’m not sure how the German league is because I’ve never played in it.

You recently turned 37 years old and are still going strong. What still keeps you going at age 37? How long do you still want to play the game that you love?

First it’s pride. Last few seasons I keep hearing I’m to old. It’s annoying because it’s not about age. It’s about performance. I lead the ACB in minutes right now this season. Also I have a very healthy diet and life style that keeps me in shape and I train very hard. Always the 1st one in the gym and the last one to leave with extra shoots treatment etc. This is my 18th professional season. The goal is to play 20 professional seasons. But also to play until I’m 40. So 2-3 years left I believe.

You played together with Julius Jenkins in Montennegro and like you is still playing in Germany and is a year older than you. How much do you respect guys like that and is he like a role model for you in terms of keep grinding and playing as long as possible? 

Me and Julz talk from time to time. Always respected him playing against him. We had some great battles my 1st season in Europe in Belgium. But playing together he has that killer mentality. Small but so much heart. 

Your ex teammate Elmeden Kikanovic said this about you once. ‘Omar is a great professional. He takes care of his body. He is feeling ok and still playing good. I’m happy for him. He is one of the best passers who played in Europe. I was very young and it was very simple to play with him at that time for me. I improved a lot my pick and roll game playing with him. He had a great season with Red Star probably the best in his career’. What do you remember about his game? 

Kika was my young guy at Red Star. Very raw but worked so hard. He’s had a really nice career and has played on some really good teams and has played well everywhere he’s been. He’s actually passed my expectations of him. Really good guy and has had a great career so far. Wish him the best going forward. 

Your playing your third season with Movistar Estudiantes and seventh season in the Spanish ACB. What have you enjoyed most about having the opportunity to play in this league and is it the best league that you have played in? 

This is the longest I’ve been on 1 team 3 seasons. Spain is a very good league. Maybe the best yes. Overall top to bottom every team is good at home. And the talent level in ACB is very high. 

What are your biggest goals now as a player? Obviously winning a title is always the biggest, but that will be tough in the ACB. On what things are you focusing on most now and enjoying the most as you are in the twilight of your professional basketball career? 

I always want to win. My goals are to play on the highest level I possibly can play. Just trying to not put so much pressure on myself. I’m my biggest critic. So I’m hard on myself. Just trying to finish my career the right way. And on my terms. 

You have played together with Niklas Caner-Medley who has had a long career. He has been doing very good things off the court and has made a lot of extra money. What have you appreciated most about his game and has he given you tips about finances off the court? 

Nik seems to be on business calls 24/7. Great guy. Quiet but he’s a good person. I ask him questions when things happen around me that I see him doing. But I don’t get into his personal life so much. As you said for a guy who has so much going on off the court he brings it every day. And he’s motivated. He’s here putting in the extra work all the time. 

You played two seasons with KK Buducnost Voli Podgorica (Montenegro-Erste Liga) from 2014-2016 winning two league titles. Were these two seasons some your best years as a professional as you were winning and putting very high assists averages? 

Buducnost was great. I love Montenegro. My family loves Montenegro maybe even more than me. My 2nd home. Omar Kukic. But the local league there they always win. 1st year was very easy. But the 2nd season was very hard to win the Montenegro league. I always say the 1st one don’t really count. But that season does. Bar Monar made it very tough for us. I guess I underachieved there. Couldn’t help get my team to the Euroleague as they are now after winning Aba league last season.

You played a very strong season with Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius (Lithuania-LKL) as usual putting up very high assists averages and was teammates with Zabian Dowdell. He had reached the NBA a few years earlier. What was it like being teammates with him and could you refrain from making those judgements as to how he had been in the NBA and making comparisons to your game as you also had been in the NBA.

Z was my teammate in Malaga as well. He’s a very good player with a lot of talent. NBA is all about timing I think. I think I got a raw deal in the NBA. Never was on a team on opening not with a guaranteed contact to feel free and comfortable. Was always on a non guarantee contract or a 10 day. Very hard to be yourself when your always afraid to mess up. 

You played two season with EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (Italy-SerieA) from 2011-2013. You led the Euroleague in assists one season. What did it mean to you having this achievement?

I think assists is my strong point. Always in the top 3 in assists my whole career. Just a gift I have of finding people in the right positions. I always say assist can only come if your teammates score the ball. So it’s not about me.

There you were blessed playing with some amazing players like Keith Langford and Malik Hairston, but please explain how much fun it was playing with Greek legends Antonis Fotsis and Ioannis Bourousis? 

Fortsis and Ioannis both great guys. Fortsis was a very quiet guy. He loved cars. Loannis was always animated. Both are legends and had amazing careers. 

You had your first tour of duty in the ACB from 2008-2011 with Malaga and Valenica. When you look back at that time and compare it to how it is today how has the league changed?

I think when I first got to Spain besides Pau Gasol all the best players from Spain were in the ACB. They had that 1980s class which was amazing. To many guys to name. But they all were in the ACB. And spread out throughout the league. They were just on 3 or 4 teams. They was on say 10 teams. Think now the league is still great and the ACB is looking for the next generation of great starts. Trying to see who they will be now. A lot of the great young guys from Spain are in the NBA.

In 2010-2011 you played with Valencia B.C. (Spain-ACB) for head coach Svetislav Pesic and a young Nando De Colo. What memories do you have of both and do have any nice stories concerning them?

My best overall season in Europe. Pesic is a great coach who understand the game. You can never question what he asked from you on the court. Maybe practices were way to hard. But when he came we were 1-6 in ACB and 1-4 in Europeleague. We finished 3rd in ACB and made it to the top 8 in euroleague. Nando was another very quiet guy. Maybe the most quiet guy I’ve ever played with. But he did his job and worked hard. He’s 1 of the best if not the best player in Europe right now. 

You played for Unicaja Malaga (Spain-ACB) from 2008-2010 and led the Euroleague in assists again. What has been your biggest pride when you pass the ball? How special is it getting that assist? 

Just like to do whatever it takes for my team to win. If it’s assists, scoring or guarding the best player on the other team. I just try to do whatever I can to help my team win. I only care about winning. 

You played for head coach Aito who is still coaching now and has turned Alba Berlin around and made the youth development alive again. What words do you still have in your mind when he spoke to you concerning your incredible playmaking? 

Aito is a teacher. Great coach for young guys. And he’s been coaching since forever. Another great mind who understands the game. He’s was a PG and coached a lot of PGs. So he tried to put me in the best position to be successful on the court. 

You also were teammates for two seasons with Czech Republic legend Jiri Welsch who had just returned back to Europe after three seasons in the NBA? Was he one of those players that could amaze you each day in practice or in a game? 

Jiri is another good guy. He always worked hard and had an amazing understanding for the game. I think my 1st season and Malaga and my season in Valencia was thebest teams I’ve played on. On and off the court. We always organized things to bond as a team. Very great groups.

In the 2007-2008 season you played for KK Crvena Zvezda Beograd (Serbia-A League) having amazing stats Adriatic League: 29 games: Score-4 (16.5ppg), 2.3rpg, Assists-1 (6.5apg), Steals-1 (3.0spg), FGP: 45.4%, 3PT: 40.3%, FT: 75.8%; ULEB Cup: 14 games: 15.2ppg, 3.2rpg, Assists-2 (6.1apg), 2.4spg, FGP: 40.4%, 3PT: 33.6%, FT: 79.8%; Superleague: 14 games: 14.8ppg, 3.0rpg, 6.9apg, 3.0spg, FGP: 54%, 3PT: 41%, FT: 72%; Play-off: 2 games: 14.0ppg, 1.5rpg, 6.5apg, 3.5 spg, FGP: 30%, 3PT: 46%, FT:30%. Was this your best professional season?

Best season stats wise. This made the big clubs take notice of me. The summer before this season my wife was pregnant with our 1st child and it seemed like no teams wanted to sign me. I signed with Red Star in late August early September I believe. I remember sitting in my house almost in tears without being signed. So I came in very motivated. My best season was in Valencia I think. After having a great season in Malaga and them not picking up my 3rd year options, it was very confusing to me. So had a point to prove. Seems like the story of my Career. Always the forgotten one.

As a rookie you played for Dexia Mons-Hainaut (Belgium-D1) playing 7 FIBA Europe Cup games averaging 13.1ppg, 2.4rpg, 7.6apg, 2.3spg, 2FGP: 37.5%, 3FGP: 41.7%, FT: 53.8%; and played 31 Belgian League: 31 games: 14.0ppg, 2.4rpg, Assists-1 (7.2apg), 1.9spg, 2FGP: 49.0%, 3PT: 37.0%, FT: 49.0%. What was your wake up call to being a rookie in Europe where you knew that you very far away from home? 

Funny looking at these stats. For a guy they say couldn’t shoot I think my percentages says different. Haha. But living in another country for the 1st time was very hard. I was alone. My wife didn’t live with me. No kids yet. It was very hard for me. But when I was in that Arena. And the games was full gym made very exciting games. 

You began your professional career in 2001 and played your first four seasons mostly for the Fayetteville Patriots (NBDL) and averaged 8,8apg in your last two seasons. You got rewarded with two 10 day contracts with Portland and Toronto and played 22 NBA games. What memories do you have of your short NBA time? 

I just wish I had got the chance to be on an NBA team from the first day with a guaranteed contact where I could have been myself. But grateful for the chance to make it to the NBA and actually play in some games. I know my best game in the NBA was my last game. With the Raptors playing against Lebron James and the Cavs and if they beat us and someone else lost they go to the playoffs. I had 19pts and 9ast that game. I remember it perfect. I thought that was the start for something great for me, but it was my last game in the NBA. I went into summer league with the wrong attitude and it costed me a spot on the team for the next season. 

What was the best example then that the NBA was strictly a business before anything else?

Just seeing how teams handled players and how quickly you could disappear. I have a story about getting signed to The Boston Celtics on the last day of the NBA season. I had a two year deal. The second year would be guaranteed after August?? Don’t remember the day. And I rented me a apartment next to the practice facility. But I couldn’t practice with the team. I wasn’t allowed to sit on the bench during the playoff games. It was a very strange situation. I was seated in different seats throughout the Arena. Not even the same seat every game. I was 19 years old with a suit on sitting with the rest of the fans. And after my 1st summer league game after not being around the team the whole playoff run. They went to the Eastern conference finals that season. I was not in the plans after 1 summer league game. That was the biggest wake up call for me. 

Do ever wonder how your career might have gone had you come out of the NCAA now? Do you feel like your game might have been more suitable for the NBA or perhaps less? 

When I came out a lot of teams was looking for big guards. And now the NBA is a guards game. Best position in the NBA right now I think is the PG. Every night someone is coming at you. So I think my game is great for how the NBA is now. But I’m 37. Feel 27 but in Reality I’m 37. Maybe I will get a job with a NBA team after I retire and I can have a great career there as a coach scout etc. 

You played NBA Summer League in 2006 and then concentrated on a career in Europe. Did you get the kind of feedback then that the NBA would be a reach. What do you feel was missing from your game that could have kept you in the NBA?

I’m not a summer league player. I need structure. Summer league guys are going for theirs. It’s not good for how I play the game. I think I was and still am an NBA player. I can run a team. I play on both ends of the court. They say my shot but you just showed me my numbers. I didn’t even know I was shooting such a great percentage. It’s all about timing. I think if Denver who traded for me on draft night would of took the time to let me get comfortable that I could of had a great career in the NBA. But everything happens for a reason. And my game was to be seen all over the world. 

You played only one season at St Johns in 2000-2001 and broke Mark Jackson’s game assist record with 17 and Your 252 assists set a freshman school record, previously held by Erick Barkley and ranks second on the all-time single-season chart. What was your best moment that one season? 

Being in my city. Playing at MSG was amazing. I wish we could of won more games. But we were a young team. Great memories. 

Do you ever wonder how you may have developed differently had you stayed three or four years at ST Johns. When looking back did you ever wonder if leaving early had been a mistake?

Maybe one more season would of helped me far as my making the NBA. I felt with Jayson Williams staying in school I was one of the top PGs in the draft. 

How did head coach Mike Jarvis groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career at St John 

I will skip this question. Just heard things about things he did after I left that I didn’t know about at the time. So will skip this. I will say as a coach and my time with him at SJU was great. 

Who won a one on one in practice back in the day you or Sharif Fordham?

I didn’t lose 1 on 1 games in college. 

Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA now? 

The toughest player I played against growing up in HS and college was Jayson Williams. He was amazing. Fast strong could shoot. He was the truth. Another guy I didn’t play against in college but in HS was D.Wade. He wasn’t an all American in HS. But from my class he by far has had the best career. And I wish him the best in his last season. I respect that guy so much. 

If you had to pick your personal favorite starting five of teammates over the years which players would you chose? 

I did 1 for ACB. I picked Nado, Edwin Jackson, Sylven , Marcus Haslip/ Dusko Savanaic and Boni Ndong. For NBA career I played with Steve Nash and Dirk and Paul the Truth P. Zach Randolph. But I don’t count the NBA guys. 

If you had to construct your very own NBA mount Rushmore which 4 heads would you pick? 

Greatest ever? If so MJ LBJ Kobe and Magic. 

What is your personal opinion about the never ending debate of who is the greatest between Michael Jordan and Lebron James?

LBJ overall game and numbers are amazing. MJ is a killer. Greatest winner ever. 

You saw first hand how much talent Luka Doncic has last season. When all is said and done, could be on of the greatest European players that ever played in the NBA?

He can be one of the greatest ever if he stays the course. His basketball IQ is on another level for his age. He’s way ahead of his time. 

What was the last movie that you saw?

Some kids movie with the family if Netflix don’t count lol. Think it’s was the cartoon spider man movie.

Thanks Omar for the chat.

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