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November 22, 2006
? Preseason Top 25
? Preseason All-Americans
? The College Basketball Wire
Get the inside scoop on your favorite team:
Pittsburgh junior Mike Cook has never taken fewer shots in his college career. Cook has never been asked to pass the ball this much or play this little.
Cook has never been this happy, either.
After two seasons of playing on losing teams and one year on the sideline, Cook is suiting up for one of nation's top teams. The East Carolina transfer is part of No. 5-ranked Pittsburgh's balanced attack. He is part of an experienced nine-man rotation that has powered the Panthers to a 5-0 start.
"I'm a lot happier on and off the court," Cook told Rivals.com. "I'm a lot more relaxed now. Nobody worries about how many points you score here. Everybody is more unselfish. In fact, me and (sophomore guard) Levance (Fields) were arguing about who had more assists after one game."
At East Carolina, Cook had gotten used to arguing with teammates out of pure frustration. The Pirates went a combined 22-33 in his two seasons there, and a 9-19 season in 2004-05 cost coach Bill Herrion his job.
About a month later, Cook decided to leave. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound guard from Philadelphia chose Pitt after taking visits to Charlotte, George Washington and LaSalle and considering Georgia Tech.
"With coach gone and all the losing I knew I could better," Cook said. "I drove up to Pitt, and once I saw the gym I fell in love with it. Plus, it was close to home and I knew a lot of people up here."
Questions lingered about how Cook, who played with former Syracuse star Hakim Warrick and Arizona guard Mustafa Shakur at Friends Central High in Philadelphia, would fit into Pitt's unselfish brand of ball. A very offensive-minded player at ECU, he took shots in a hurry and from all over the court. He averaged 15.1 shots and 15 points per game as a sophomore.
At Pitt, outside of 7-foot center Aaron Gray, players aren't supposed to shoot unless they're open. With a roster loaded with proven veterans, the Panthers try and wear opponents down with their depth. They're told to stick to a structured offense, constantly move without the ball and pass around the perimeter.
So far, Cook is excelling at all the above. He's taking more than half as many shots (7.2 per game) and making nearly twice as many of his attempts as last season, shooting 61 percent (22-of-36) compared to 37 percent (157-of-424).
Cook is averaging 22 minutes per game, 11 fewer than last season. However, he is still averaging 11.6 ppg, the second-highest total on the team.
Cook has also proven he can be a leader, coming up with his best game when Pitt needed him most. With Gray limited to 17 minutes because of foul trouble and a cut lip against Massachusetts, one of the favorites in the Atlantic-10, last week, Cook scored a team-high 14 points in a convincing 85-68 win at home. He also dished out four assists and made two steals.
"The biggest adjustment was having to realize I didn't need the ball or need to take a shot when we got down court," said Cook, who shed more than 10 pounds in the offseason. "It's good though, because it takes some pressure off you. If we need a big shot it can come through Aaron, Levance, me or someone else."
Five games into his Pitt career, Cook is cleary happy to be a Panther.