OAKLAND -- What the Warriors are asking of Quinn Cook this month is ultra-challenging, certainly unfair and precisely what he knows best.
He is being required, out of necessity, to temporarily replace the most influential point guard in the NBA.
He is being assigned, after signing an official, multiyear NBA contract Tuesday, to fill the shoes of the most popular player in the league.
He is being summoned, upon replacing two-time MVP Stephen Curry, to set the tempo for the defending champions, with three All-Stars, including MVP award-winner Kevin Durant, as they dive into the 2018 postseason.
As difficult as this might seem for a young man who reentered the league through a crack in the door hours before the season opened in October, Cook has the chops for this. He sees the big picture and everything in it.
Cook is, like Durant and a procession of others migrated to the NBA, a survivor of the get-what-you-earn basketball courts of Prince George’s County, which may be the hottest hoops bed on the Atlantic coast.
“Heading into the playoffs, with the mindset that we’ll be without Steph, to know that we’ve got a guy like Quinn, who has stepped up and played as well as he’s playing, and is as confident as he is, it’s a good feeling,” Draymond Green says.
When the Warriors close the regular season Tuesday night at Utah, Cook will be making his 18th start of the season, and his NBA career. It’ll be his 10th consecutive start and the last before he takes the ball when the playoffs begin this weekend.
“I’m living my dream,” Cook says. “I’m playing in the NBA. There’s no better feeling. To be out there with those guys, it makes my job so much easier. I just try to get those guys the ball and stay aggressive and make those guys’ jobs a lot easier.”
After repeatedly staring down and defeating adversity, and overcoming failure with persistence, there are reasons to believe Cook is built for this.
He was barely into sophomore in high school when he lost his father and best friend, Ted Cook, who died on an operating table at age 48. Cook mourned -- still does -- but turned his ears toward other mentors, including Nolan Smith -- an assistant coach at Duke -- and Durant.
After starring at fabled DeMatha High School in the Washington D.C. area and then basketball factory Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, Cook landed at Duke, where he wore the same No. 2 that Smith had worn a few years earlier and evolved into the leader of the Blue Devils team that won the national championship in 2015.
The good times lasted until draft night, when nobody called his name.
Rather than sulk, Cook and his representatives began pursuit of a job somewhere, anywhere, in the NBA. He went through five organizations -- the Thunder, the Cavaliers, the Pelicans, the Mavericks and the Hawks -- in 26 months before signing a two-way contract, in its first year of existence, with the Warriors.
That contract was signed Oct. 17, the date of the team’s season opener.
“We knew he could play,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says. “And we knew we were lucky when we got him on the two-way deal.”
Cook understoods that the two-way contract is not a ticket to a 10-year NBA career. He could benefit from being near his “big brother,” Durant, who provided encouragement while keeping it real. Cook was determined to establish himself once and for all, with the Warriors, his sixth NBA organization.
Restricted by two-way rules to 45 days in the NBA, Cook alternated between the Warriors of G-League Santa Cruz and those of Golden State. He was impressive in both places, becoming the first player to post a 50-40-90 season -- 50 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent from beyond the arc, 90 percent from the line -- in the 17-year history of the G-League or its predecessor, the D-League.
“I knew the name,” says Santa Cruz coach Aaron Miles. “But I did not know about the Cook Show.”
Cook started 29 games for Santa Cruz, averaging 25.3 points and 8.1 assists. He shot 52.7 percent from the field, 43.9 from deep and 94.9 from the line. He had three 40-point games.
He earned the promotion and now, in Curry’s absence, has proved to be someone the Warriors want to keep in the NBA. Indeed, the Cook Show saved their backsides. After some initial hesitation, he settled into his role as an NBA player with the most heralded team in the league. His head stopped spinning, his shots started falling and his game is thriving.
“It’s a difficult task, being thrown into the fire, especially being pulled from the G-League and then coming up to play with us when guys are injured and not knowing when you’re going to play and then getting thrown in the starting lineup,” Durant says. “It’s a lot on you mentally. He has done a great job of taking that on and learning along the way. I’m very proud of him.”
Cook was 9 years old when he met Durant, who was 14, at a local gym in what they refer to as “PG County,” the launch pad not just for those two but also for the likes of Michael Beasley, Victor Oladipo, Jeff Green, Markelle Fultz, brothers Jerian and Jerami Grant and others in recent years.
If you can be a star there, you can play anywhere. If you can pass the many physical and mental tests from PG County through AAU ball, through Oak Hill and Duke, and then a series of rejections in the NBA -- all after growing into manhood with only the memory of your father -- you can’t help but gain perspective.
Cook, 25, has gained a clear understanding about life beyond basketball, which is why the game has not broken him and will not break him. He’s not sweating this.
“He clearly is an NBA player,” Kerr says. “But what he did in the G-League, in Santa Cruz for us, gave us a glimpse of, ‘All right, if Steph does get hurt, he could fill in.’ “
Fill in. For Stephen Curry. On the decorated Golden State Warriors. In the postseason. Sounds like a prank, eh?
That’s what Cook being asked to do. He isn’t laughing. Neither are those who have to deal with him.