April 29, 1982 |
Atlantic City, New Jersey
|Listed height||6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)|
|Listed weight||206 lb (93 kg)|
|High school||Northern Valley Regional
(Old Tappan, New Jersey)
|NBA draft||2002 / Undrafted|
Leonard Cooke (born April 29, 1982) is an American former high school and professional basketball player. Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he is known primarily for having been ranked higher than LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in the Summer of 2001. He had averaged 25 points, 10 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks per game in his junior year of high school. Following his junior year in high school, he averaged 31.5 points for the first eight games of his senior year. When he turned 19 in 2001, he was academically ineligible to play according to high school athletics' rules in his home county in New Jersey. Cooke is the subject of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival selected documentary film Lenny Cooke by the Safdie Brothers.
Lenny Cooke was a highly regarded young basketball player in high school, in the various basketball camps, and the AAU and tournaments. At one point he was considered one of the top recruits in the country, along with rival contemporaries like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Amar'e Stoudemire. Future NBA star Joakim Noah was one of his close friends.
At Franklin K. Lane High School, in Brooklyn, Cooke was honored as Freshman of the Year. Cooke attended La Salle Academy in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City from 1999-2000, where he averaged 30 points and 15 rebounds. He earned MVP honors in the 2000 Adidas ABCD camp. He was taken in by Debbie Bortner to attend Northern Valley Regional High School located in Old Tappan, New Jersey, from 2000 to February 2002.
One of the featured anecdotes of the biographical movie "Lenny Cooke" was the 2001 ABCD camp matchup between Cooke, the NYC area phenom and defending camp MVP, versus the lesser-known phenom from "nowhere" LeBron James, in which LeBron effectively supplanted Cooke as the most highly regarded prospect in the country.
At the end of the 2001-02 school year, Cooke had a year left to graduate, but had exhausted his high school basketball eligibility. Against the advice of Bortner, he chose to transfer to Mott Adult High School in Flint, Michigan, where he worked to get his equivalency diploma and work on his basketball game. Ineligible for school play, he was confined to pickup games and tournaments.
On March 8, 2002, he scored 21 points to help the Eastern Conference defeat the West 115-103, at the EA Sports Roundball Classic at the United Center in Chicago. At that point, he was rated #4 High School Player in the United States in the Prep Stars Recruiter’s Handbook.
At the end of the 2001-02 school year, Cooke had multiple options for basketball: North Carolina, Seton Hall, St. John's, Miami and Ohio State. He professed a preference for St John's in the NYC area, but it was never clear whether he would have been eligible.[notes 1]
Amid enticing agent promises that explicitly stated a dozen NBA teams were seriously considering him and at least three guaranteed they would take him in the 1st round if he was available, Cooke chose to bypass college and declare himself eligible for the 2002 NBA Draft, a decision which ended his eligibility to play college basketball.
To his surprise and disappointment, in the 2002 NBA Draft, all 29 NBA teams passed on Cooke in both rounds. Because he was not selected, Cooke became a free agent, eligible to sign with any NBA team that wanted him.[notes 2]
That summer, after being bypassed in the NBA Draft, he played in the Rucker Park Summer League in New York for the Terror Squad team. Later in 2002, Cooke was drafted by the Columbus Riverdragons of the NBDL. In April 2003, he tried out for the Brevard Blue Ducks of the USBL, and in May 2003 was signed by the USBL's Brooklyn Kings. In 15 games, he averaged 28.8 points and more than 9 rebounds per game.
He played well enough there that the Boston Celtics invited him to play on their summer league team, but that was the closest he ever came to playing in the NBA. While he played in several games, to his lasting disappointment he didn't get in the game when his team played the Cleveland Cavaliers' summer league squad featuring their just-drafted LeBron James. Later in the summer of 2003, Cooke returned to play in the Rucker Park Summer League.
In the 2003-04 basketball season, he first played in the Philippine Basketball Association for the Purefoods TJ Hotdogs, followed by a stint with the Shanghai Dongfang Sharks where he averaged 16.7 points and almost 7 rebounds per game.
In the 2004-05 basketball season, he returned to the PBA's Purefoods team but tore his Achilles' tendon, ending his season.
Late in the summer of 2005, the NBA changed its rules to prevent future players from jumping directly from high school to the NBA by requiring all its players to be at least 19 years old and one year removed from their high school graduations. One-time phenoms like Cooke, whose development was stunted by a haste to get to the NBA too quickly, are considered to be the impetus for the change.
Cooke is the subject of the 2013 biopic Lenny Cooke which documents his athletic rise, fall, and subsequent life after basketball.
- His academic record was spotty, and reportedly he had never bothered to take college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT.
- According to the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, any potential player who wants to play in the NBA must go through the draft selection process once. If unselected, as Cooke was, a player then becomes a free agent, with the ability to negotiate and sign his first NBA deal with any team at any time.
- Araton, Harvey (March 3, 2012). "Star-to-Be Who Never Was". The New York Times.
- Safdie, Ben; Safdie, Joshua (Directors) (2013). Lenny Cooke (Motion picture). USA.
- "2002 NBA Draft - Basketball-Reference.com". Basketball-Reference.com. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
- "CBA - National Basketball Players Association". Retrieved 18 July 2017.
- Lenny Cooke on IMDb