Quinn Cook on Business, Friendships, and Basketball in the Bubble
If you’ve met Quinn Cook … you like Quinn Cook. Doesn’t take long!
Seemingly everybody’s best friend in the NBA, Cook is in his first year with the Lakers after two straight trips to the NBA Finals with Golden State, including a title in 2018.
His friendly, engaging and sincere personality has endeared him across the league, and should also help him in his latest off-the-court venture: STAC, a virtual college-athlete recruiting platform for which he’ll be the first athlete brand ambassador.
Founded in Oct. 2018 by Robert de Wolff, Bryant Drayton and Peter Hanneman, STAC will build a database of athletes across different sports, and offer it to colleges for a subscription fee. The service is free for the athletes, and will originally center on the DC, Maryland and Virginia (DMV) market that is home to Cook.
Cook joined us on FaceTime just before the Lakers left for the Orlando bubble to discuss his involvement with STAC, relay why it’s so important for him to try and help kids from his area in particular and how the social justice movement can be incorporated.
Cook also detailed how he’s made so many friends around the NBA, explains why he’s really looking forward to being in the Orlando bubble with his teammates, dishes on what video games he’s bringing and who stands out on the Lakers group text thread.
Below is a transcription of our conversation:
MT: What made you want to get involved with STAC?
Cook: I was just honored to be considered as the guy they wanted to represent the company. I think it’s a beautiful idea, and when they presented it to me I couldn’t say no. Because I always think of the kids that didn’t have the same resources and opportunities that I had. For me growing up, the main reason I went to Dematha (Catholic High School) was because every college coach stepped foot in there. When I was thinking about going to high school, people were saying, ‘Dematha is loaded, you might not play until your junior year because they have this guy and that guy,’, but my dad said, ‘Well, you’re going to work hard, so you’ll eventually play.’ You’re (going to) get noticed there. I was lucky for that. Going to a powerhouse high school, playing on ESPN a couple times a year, playing a nationally ranked schedule and also playing in the best conference in the world in high school, I was lucky. We’d have no less than nine guys go Division 1 every year.
So I flip that to say there’s a lot of kids just as talented as me, a lot of guys I grew up with without those same resources. I think STAC brings a vision to where the kids who don’t go to the powerhouse high schools or play on the big AAU teams have an outlet where college coaches can also have direct contact to and links to them. Say a college needs a 6’8’’ shooting wing … you can type into the STAC database the height, length and shooting percentage and so on to find the player that you want.
MT: You have three teammates who were No. 1 overall picks in the NBA Draft: LeBron, AD and Dwight Howard. They were the best player in their age group for a number of years, and were going to get seen one way or the other. Does STAC aim to try and get to the kids that aren’t right there on the surface?
Cook: Yeah, well, I always look at it from both angles. Guys like LeBron, AD and Dwight were the No. 1 guy at their age forever really, and there was no doubt where they were going. They worked hard and they had the talent. But at the same time I grew up with the notoriety, going to a major high school and then Duke University. I always had an underdog mindset, but I never experienced that publicly until I went undrafted. I had to flip a switch for me, and I always feel for guys like that. But also, I commend the top guys because that’s a lot of pressure to withstand greatness with a target on your back in all ways of life. And I think STAC incorporates both, and I relate to both as well.
MT: What is it about the kids in the DC, Maryland and Virginia (DMV*) area, where you’re from, that specifically hits you since that’s where the company is going to focus initially?
Cook: That’s a great question – for me, I always say, I had no choice but to make it because I had so many guys that I could go touch that laid the blueprint out for me. I also still had to work and grind, but growing up where I grew up, I had that competitive fire because I was raised by my idols (in the DMV). That’s still how it is. A lot of public school kids, we all played on the same AAU team, and the 8th or 9th man on that team may not get as much time, but on his high school team he averages 30 points. So I think of those kids who don’t get the same love from colleges and go high D1 or mid major just because of the school they go to, where the coach may have seen a guy late. I know a lot of guys who didn’t get the opportunity, and I think this can help bridge that gap. Kids from the DMV are in love with the game and in love with the culture and just support each other.
*The DMV has produced a ton of NBA talent, including Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Victor Oladipo, Rudy Gay, Jeff Green and Cook, not to mention Hall of Famers like Allen Iverson, Moses Malone and L.A.’s own Elgin Baylor.
MT: With the recent focus and attention on Black Lives Matter and social justice and reform, and corporations paying increased attention, is there a way to integrate this new business into helping to bridge some of the racial gaps as well that are so sorely needed?
Cook: For sure, I think that’s the mission in all life, whether it’s basketball, being a doctor, building a company. I think we take social justice and the lessons we’re learning now, that everybody is learning. A lot of people aren’t as educated about what’s going on, especially if you’re not black, not a minority. It’s really about education. That’s been the biggest focal point in America right now, which is a good step in the right direction. I know us as a company, that’s something we’re looking forward to help bridge that gap, bring us all together and bring reform for everyone. I think this is a great tool to bring all races together. The guys I’m working with, they come from all aspects of life. It’s amazing.
MT: Well, if they were looking to find somebody who’s good at bringing people together … I don’t think there’s anybody in the NBA that has as many friends as you do. I always enjoy going out to the court before games and watching the progression as you talk to what seems like every player, a bunch of the coaches and trainers, the agents, the shoe execs … everybody. I’m going to assume this is just who you are, who you’ve always been?
Cook: That’s how my parents … that’s how my dad was, that’s how my mom is. Very friendly and outgoing. You get on an elevator with someone, you say hi to them, you speak to them. You give respect. That’s just how I’ve always been. I’ve always been a point guard, so being a coach on the floor, I’ve had to connect with every one of my teammates and find ways to motivate them, find ways to build them up. When I started going to camps growing up, meeting people from different areas, a lot of times the DMV guys would stick together, the New York guys would stick together, the California guys … but I was the guy who was with California, with Seattle, with Texas. I was always that guy, starting really young. Brad Beal and Tony Wroten were probably my first two friends where we met at a young age, became best friends and talked every day. And growing up, I was lucky to be around Kevin Durant and Nolan Smith and Mike Beasley, I saw them go to the league. Then you play AAU, against all these guys that’s in the league now, competing against each other for more than a decade. And then you start mentoring the other guys, the young guys that watched you. You want to give love to them. I mean, the NBA brotherhood is a real thing. We’re extremely close. Having close relationships with all these guys I’m a fan of, guys I want to learn from. It’s an honor for me to have people use me as a uniter like you said, call me for advice. I think being a great teammate is a skill, and it will keep you a job for a while. A guy like Jarrett Jack is a guy is somebody who I try to be like in that aspect. He has relationships from the superstars to the rookies, has respect from everyone in the league, and I try to emulate that as much as possible.
MT: What a great life skill that is to have, be it in basketball, in business, just in general.
Cook: That’s how me and my sister were raised. It goes beyond basketball like you said, it’s a life skill. Business. Being a customer. Anything. I always want to give my respect and be nice to people. You never know what somebody’s going through, you never know who somebody is, just be kind to them. I’m just lucky enough to have been brought up like that.
MT: OK now, I don’t want to exclude anybody because as we mentioned, you’re tight with the entire league. But try to give me Quinn Cook’s starting five of close friends…
Cook: I’m literally really good friends with damn near everybody! (laughs) But if I had to pick five, probably Steph (Curry), Brad (Beal), LeBron, KD (Kevin Durant) and AD at the five. But I can’t leave out my guys Victor Oladipo, all my Dukies, the three guys I played with on one high school team: Oladipo, Jerian Grant (Wizards), Jerami Grant (Nuggets).
MT: Not a bad five!! And … you guys didn’t lose much at DeMatha, huh?
Cook: No, we didn’t!
MT: Let’s move over to the bubble. What are you packing, and have you started any plans as the team social director for what you’re all going to do?
Cook: Nah we haven’t. The first thing I’m packing is my gaming stuff, because we have a 36-hour or maybe more quarantine. I play Madden and 2K, and AD just told me to download (Call of Duty) War Zone, which is what everybody plays: AD, JaVale and Kuz. But we’re a very close team so we’ll find ways, whether it’s playing cards or whatever. Guys will do something. This team is extremely close. All the stuff we’ve been through has made us closer. So I’m looking forward to spending a couple months directly with my guys and just learning. On this team, I learn so much every single day, not just basketball but life. Just watching how my vets move, how they handle their money, handle their bodies. I ask so many questions and get direct access to them every single day. Usually during the season you go to the arena or practice and you’re with your guys for two or three hours and then you go home. Now, you go to the gym with the team, eat with the team, at the hotel with the team … it reminds me of AAU, or a team camp. I’m looking forward to learning from my guys.
MT: You were playing some good basketball in the NBA Finals* last year, proving that you could handle your business in any setting. Jared Dudley’s shown for years that he can be counted upon. You guys haven’t been in the rotation every night this season because of the depth, but Frank Vogel, LeBron and AD have constantly mentioned how positive you guys have been, how it’s been all about the team winning and nothing about you. How much of that effort has been conscious and how much is your personality?
Cook: That’s what makes a team. To be honest with you, our coaches and front office have so much to worry about during the course of a season. Dudley is one of the best teammates that anybody has ever had. My thing is just being as low maintenance as possible. Coming to work every day and being ready when called. I know it sounds cliché, but I truly live by that, and for me, it’s an honor to be on the Lakers. It’s an honor to be on this loaded team. If you think about it, I’m the third string point guard, I sit behind LeBron James and Rajon Rondo. I couldn’t dream of nothing like that. Me, ‘Bron and Rondo always talk on the bench. So yeah, I’ve had some great games in the playoffs, I’ve had some 25- and 30-point games in the league. I know I can play. I know what I can do in this league, and everybody on my team knows that, which is great because they have the ultimate confidence in me. But for me, it always comes back around. I learned that the last two years in Golden State, and I was able to perform well at the highest level. So for me it’s just being the best teammate I can be, man, and always being ready. And I live in the gym, and I know that moment will come.
*Cook played 21 minutes in Game 2 of the Finals vs. TOR, scoring nine points on 3 of 6 FG’s, with three 3-pointers made, and nine more points in Game 3 in 27 minutes, plus two assists.
MT: Going into Orlando, with all of the extenuating circumstances, you know they’re going to need you, that your number is going to be called when it matters. Maybe it’s multiple times, maybe it’s one big game. You guys seemed to embrace that it wasn’t about who played the most in December or January, but about whatever it takes to ultimately win the title?
Cook: For sure. And everybody has helped this year in some form, and we’re definitely going to need that in Orlando. We really can go one through 15 (on the roster). That’s what makes this team so special. Everybody is all into winning. We have the superstars, we have guys who have won that understand the team concept. We have a team where a guy can go 1 for 8 (shooting) but if the team wins, everybody is happy. Our coaches find ways to build us up and make us feel important, and so do our leaders.
MT: Where is your mind at as you get closer to these eight “seeding” games, when you guys have the advantage of the 5.5-game lead in the West?
Cook: I’m just thinking about training camp right now. It’s been a while since March, since we’ve all been together as a team. I’m looking forward to getting back in the grind with my guys, watching film and working on different stuff in practice, not just the scrimmaging part but the drills, and getting our shots back at a high clip. Our shooting competitions are the best ever. Our film sessions – man, you walk out of there learning something new. We have so many basketball minds in there from all our players to our coaches. And it’s just building on our great habits. We have the talent. We’re going to be prepared. Our coaches and leaders will have us prepared. Now it’s just keying on those habits we have, and I don’t think it will take long. It’ll be quick. We’re all locked in. Our new guys, Swish (JR Smith) and Philly Cheese (Dion Waiters), I’m looking forward to integrating those guys. They’ve played at the highest level and played well … they bring something that we didn’t have as well, and I’m just looking forward to being with my guys.
MT: I knew JR was “Swish” … does everybody call Dion “Philly Cheese?”
Cook: Mostly everybody, yup!
MT: Last thing – who’s the MVP of the team text thread you guys have that I know goes off constantly:
Cook: It’s a three-way tie. I’ll go ‘Bron, Duds and Kuz. They all send random, funny stuff in the middle of the day. Somebody sends something so funny … maybe the chat has been dead for a couple hours and somebody pops up.
MT: Is there one example you can give me that’s PG?
Cook: Man, that text thread is so long, there’s so much every day that’s funny. But the cool part about it is, it’s not just that we’re messing around all day. I remember when the (season was suspended), ‘Bron sent a text after two weeks or so when we all hadn’t been together: ‘Miss you guys.’ Just something uplifting like, ‘Can’t wait to get back on the floor with you guys, finish what we started.’ I think that’s what’s made us closer because usually on an NBA team when you’re away from your guys, you have so much other stuff to attend to, but our guys, we’ve stuck close, and that’s what’s made us special.
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