WALKER – Jalen Cook stares down at the floor in front of him, stretching a strand of hair as far as it can go, in this case midway down his face.
His concentration remains resolute, his focus sharp while he considers the options standing before him.
It’s clearly good to be Jalen Cook, the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in basketball, and the Walker High two-sport standout is well aware of his unlimited future.
“I’m having fun while I’m in high school, loving what I do,” Cook said. “Just being a high school athlete; it’s been good to me the past couple of years I’ve played here. I love both sports, so why stop now? The memories? I won’t get these years back. I’ve got to embrace the process and love it. I just thank God he gave me the abilities to be great at both sports.”
Cook’s a month removed from helping lead Walker High to a second consecutive Class 5A state tournament. The Wildcats, coached by Anthony Schiro, were on the brink of a repeating as state champions when they went cold in the final two minutes of play, falling 70-60 to Thibodaux in the state final.
A day later Cook – a well-chiseled 6-foot, 180-pound wide receiver – traveled from Lake Charles to New Orleans to participate in an Under Armour football skills camp, enabling him to compete against some of the state’s and region’s top defensive backs.
Cook certainly didn’t look like someone who just stepped off a basketball court, running crisp routes and catching passes with the same precision he did during the football season.
It further added intrigue to Cook’s long-range plans.
Just which direction will Cook eventually turn?
College coaches in both basketball and football are patiently wondering the same thing where Cook has received 14 scholarship offers in football and eight in basketball.
Both numbers will increase over the course of the spring and into the summer, where Cook will take unofficial visits for both sports, along with going through offseason football workouts under first-year Walker football coach Chad Mahaffey and tackle another ambitious AAU schedule with the Louisiana Elite.
“This summer will be tougher mentally than physically,” Cook said. “Now that I’m getting down to it, I have to think and weigh my options really hard. Having discussions with my family outs beyond the norm.
it. I just want to be smart about everything I do now. Everybody’s just waiting on a decision.”
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
For Cook, that stretche
It’s not just about trying to select a school, but it’s compounded by the fact the ultra-talented point guard/wide receiver/kick returner will have to ultimately select his sport of choice.
Not that he’s totally ruled out playing both sports in college, but Cook, who carries a 3.4 GPA, realizes the reluctance some schools have when it comes to recruiting two-sport athletes.
“Coach O (LSU’s Ed Orgeron) told me since I had already had a (LSU) basketball offer, I could decide what I wanted to do, then go from there,” said Cook, who made a Junior Day visit to LSU on Feb. 18. “It makes it better having that option. If I go a school and if they’ve offered in football, what if I wanted to do basketball?
“It’s a blessing to have both of them and would make me more comfortable with the school,” Cook explained. “Knowing they’re giving me the opportunity to do both, that’s how much they want to invest in me. They care about my talents. That would make a big impact on my decision.”
Cook was named the District 4-5A MVP in basketball after averaging 29.5 points to go along with 5.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.8 steals.
He scored a career-high 48 points in a regular-season win over Landry-Walker and averaged 28.8 points during Walker’s postseason run to the state tournament where he named the Marsh Madness MVP.
According to 247Sports, Cook is the state’s third-rated player in the Class of 2020 and is the nation’s No. 42 ranked point guard.
LSU, Houston and Georgetown are among Cook’s basketball scholarship offers.
“Jalen is poised to break out as one of the top true point guards in the country this summer after an impressive junior season,” Billy Embody, 247Sports Basketball Recruiting Analyst said. “Jalen is right outside the top 100 overall prospects, at this time, but this spring and summer on the major basketball circuits will give him a chance to rise and solidify his spot as the top 2020 player in Louisiana.”
Cook’s exposure to national college coaches will increase with prime-time AAU events where the La. Elite will play in Chicago, Kansas City and Atlanta.
One coach whom Cook is uncertain of seeing is LSU’s Will Wade, who was suspended by the school for his failure to cooperate in an internal investigation into taped conversations with recruiting middleman Christian Dawkins.
Cook recalled being personally offered a scholarship by Wade and the impact the coach has had on him.
“It affects me,” Cook said. “He was a good person to me, a good guy. He always pushed me to be better and gave me great advice. It would be an impact losing a guy like coach Wade. It’s a school I really look up to, watching and love. My whole family’s LSU fans. Losing him would make me feel sad for him.”
Cook has six football scholarship offers from Power-5 Conference, including three from SEC schools Georgia, Auburn and Tennessee.
Rivals.com rates Cook as a four-star athlete and nation’s No. 19 athlete, factoring his ability to return kicks and play defensive back.
247Sports has Cook pegged as the state’s No. 23 prospect and nation’s No. 95 wide receiver after catching 47 passes for 624 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Cook also returned 10 kicks for a 37.5-yard average and scored two touchdowns, earning first team All-Parish honors and honorable mention All-State claim.
“He changes direction with ease, which allows him to easily get past the 11 would-be tacklers on returns,” said Sam Spiegelman, football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “I also believe that same fluidity would apply if he played cornerback at the next level.”
Besides the unofficial football visit to LSU in February, Cook hopes to make similar trips to Georgia and Virginia to attend spring practices.
Cook’s received similar interest from Georgetown and Wichita State, both of whom have offered basketball scholarships, in making unofficial visits. It would be an opportunity to get a better feel for their respective programs and campuses, thus setting the stage for important fall of official visits – for either football or basketball – where Cook will eventually decide on the school of his choice.
“Whatever place feels like home, I’m going to go with that,” Cook said. “Once you’re comfortable with it, you can play your best. That motivates you to get up every day and go work out when it feels like home. The discussions with my family will also help a lot.
“At the end of it all, whatever sport that I want to do in college and at the next level to wake up and enjoy to do, that’s what I’m going to do,” Cook said. “Whatever sport I love the most. I don’t plan to do two sports in college, but you never know what God’s got planned.”