\”I earned my spot\” Xavier Cooks on his shock Boomers call-up
Few people in Australian basketball saw Xavier Cooks coming.
They know his name, they know his dad Eric who has played and coached in the NBL for more than 20 years, but otherwise Cooks has developed his game out of the national spotlight.
That was until the Boomers selection camp earlier this week where he made such an impression he won a place on the roster for the FIBA World Cup in China later this month.
"It's an unbelievable feeling mate. It was hard to put into words. A long road to get to this moment," Cooks said.
Cooks, 23, was only at the camp after being called in as a replacement for NBA big man Thon Maker when he withdrew, but he has a quiet confidence in his game.
"I was always confident in my basketball ability," Cooks said.
"I know I deserve to play at a higher level. I’m one of the younger guys in the group but I feel like I’m a really unknown kind of dude, so I haven't been seen by the Australian audience very much.
"I didn't play NBL. I didn’t grow up playing in Australian junior teams.
"I play in Europe. I played in a small [US] college so I feel like I was relatively under the radar.
"Going into camp I was confident in my ability, but I was a little bit hesitant as I'd never played with or against these guys. I didn't know them like that know each other.
"But it can be a positive as well. After the first day I knew I belonged out there and the rest is history."
Xavier Cooks put in the hard work at Boomers camp and came away with a World Cup squad spot. Credit:ABPA
For a player who feels he was lucky to make the New South Wales Institute of Sport as a teenager, making the Boomers was an unspeakable thrill.
Cooks was born in Ballarat, where his dad made his name with Ballarat Miners, then he grew up in Wollongong where his dad was a long-time player and now an assistant coach with the Illawarra Hawks, but he developed late when a growth spurt saw him reach 203 centimetres.
Despite the extra height, he needed work and was brought into the NSWIS by former Sydney Kings coach Damian Cotter and then elevated to the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence by Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis.
He went to the tiny division-one US college Winthrop where he became a star before beginning his professional career with German club Wurzburg last season where he again caught plenty of praise earning a spot at the NBA Summer League with Phoenix Suns this year.
Cooks will play with respected French club Strasbourg for the upcoming season.
"Xav was just a beautiful, surprise success story," Lemanis said.
"People often ask what are your great moments and expect you to say winning championships or going to the Olympics, for me it’s moments like this.
"When he came into the Centre of Excellence he was a guy no one really thought he was going to be much of a player.
"Then he puts the work in, chips away everyday, goes to college and then to Europe and just flourishes.
"He got into camp and it was like, 'Mate you have really, really improved'."
Cooks will be a “three and D” player off the bench for the Boomers playing defence, nailing corner three-pointers and, hopefully, offering a little punch while the likes of Joe Ingles rest.
Recent NBA small forwards Mitch Creek and Deng Adel were among the cuts from this team, Creek’s omission earned plenty of ire after his stellar play in the NBL, NBA and during qualifying.
"I know they are unbelievable talents and I have ultimate respect for those guys," Cooks said.
"But at the same time it's competition and I just have to earn my spot.
"The biggest thing was to be fearless at the defence end. I knew I was going to be a defensive player who shoots open threes. Not a whole heap of shots. So I was just trying to go out there fearless."
Cooks runs down a long list of things he has improved in recent years led by his shooting, ball-handling and physicality.
"I sometimes struggle because I don't go out there and take 20 shots a game, so I struggled at summer league when everybody is trying to show what they can do and shoot the ball their first possession," Cooks said.
"My natural game is hitting the wide open dude, shooting the wide open three and playing the game the right way and this camp was unbelievable because everyone was unselfish and playing hard.
"I think that’s what they liked about me. Playing system basketball that's going to work at the highest level."
Cooks had never worked with Boomers veterans such as Patty Mills and Aron Baynes until training camp, but he already feels comfortable with them and hopes that bond grows against Canada in Perth next week and then USA at Marvel Stadium on August 22 and 24.
"It felt natural," Cooks said. "It's a whole other level, but I felt like I belonged out there."
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