Winthrop University

'The whole experience was nuts': Former Winthrop star Xavier Cooks testing NBA waters

Former Winthrop basketball star Xavier Cooks is busy working out for NBA teams, and, on occasion, taking photos with NBA celebrities, like Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
Former Winthrop basketball star Xavier Cooks is busy working out for NBA teams, and, on occasion, taking photos with NBA celebrities, like Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.

Pulling on a purple jersey with "Lakers" scrawled across the front in yellow cursive was surreal for Xavier Cooks.

Cooks, the former Winthrop basketball standout, recently worked out for the Los Angeles Lakers alongside five or six other college basketball stars in advance of the 2018 NBA Draft. They played full-court 1-on-1, 2-on-2 and 3-on-3, which Cooks called exhausting. But the Wollongong, Australia native wasn't too tired to remember to get a photo taken with Lakers Hall of Famer and president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.

"The whole experience was nuts," Cooks said. "It took me a good 30 minutes to realize, 'this is real.'"

Cooks' final exam as a Winthrop student was April 30, and he was on a plane to California a day later.

"I was at home back in Rock Hill just watching videos of my friends training," Cooks said. "I was getting so jealous."

Cooks is doing his own training in Irvine, Calif., and staying ready in case an NBA opportunity surfaces. It's unlikely he will get drafted, so landing a spot on an NBA Summer League team is the immediate target.

Cooks is working with basketball trainer Jordan Lawley, alongside a number of Australian players that just finished college and some Americans that have played professionally in Australia's NBL the last few years. Cooks lifts weights at 8 a.m., does skill work at 9, then is back in the gym shooting at 2 p.m.

Next up on the schedule: Cooks will fly to Dallas and work out for the Mavericks, then to Houston and the Rockets, and finally back to California where he'll play in front of the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors.

The 6-foot-8 Cooks led Winthrop in scoring (17.2 points per game), rebounding (8.8), blocked shots (2.1) and assists (3.6) last season and was named the Big South Conference player of the year. He'll be a small forward in the pros, after playing much more point guard in college, but his versatility means he'll have a long pro career. Somewhere.

He knows he won't get drafted by an NBA team and is already thinking about contingency plans. The first choice if something in the NBA doesn't pan out, is to play in Europe. And Cooks knows he has a future in Australian basketball if he desired. Teams from Israel, as well as almost every Aussie pro basketball team have reached out to him with contract offers or interest.

"I don't want to go back to Australia yet," he said. "I want to try and get to Europe and see the world."

Cooks didn't seem as interested in the NBA G-League, unless he could score a two-way deal, similar to the one that helped Great Falls native Torrey Craig break into the NBA this past season with the Denver Nuggets. Cooks didn't think he would improve enough in the G-League and the money on offer pales in comparison to what he could get in Europe or Australia.

But that doesn't mean the NBA is completely out of his thoughts.

"I definitely think I could play in the NBA. Gotta' stay positive," Cooks said. "I think I have a really high IQ, can read the game really well, but I've still got to work on my shooting, work on the three-ball. I'm still trying to convert from the 4 to the 3 spot."

Winthrop basketball star Xavier Cooks responded March 2, 2018 to the question of whether he had considered the possibility that the Eagles’ season might end without a second straight conference championship.

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