The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 2, 2014

Cook learning the ropes at Huntington Prep

Former Liberty star finding foes faster, stronger

BECKLEY — Levi Cook knows he made the right decision transferring from Liberty to Huntington Prep for his final two years of high school basketball. He already had a scholarship offer from West Virginia University, and had committed to head coach Bob Huggins’ program. The next step was to develop his game, in order to be more prepared when he got to Morgantown.

Prep school — specifically Huntington Prep — was the perfect place to grow, and when he made the move in August, he did so confident in the move.

That doesn’t mean it’s been an easy one.

The 6-foot-10, 305-pound center knew it was going to be difficult to leave his family — he’s a self proclaimed “MawMaw’s boy” — but he was never fully prepared for how different life would be on the “I was still a little behind because of my hand (which he injured in a car wreck), and the guys were just so big it was crazy,” remembered Cook of that first practice session. “The speed of the game is just so much faster, and guys are so much bigger. It’s not a problem, but I had to get used to it.”

A dominant force every night out in Class AA, averaging 23.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 4.1 blocked shots per game on his way to first-team all-state honors, Cook rarely saw another player his size and could take over a game without giving maximum effort.

That’s not the case at Huntington Prep, and head coach Rob Fulford — a Wyoming County native — has spent much of the season trying to teach Cook the importance of always playing at 100 percent. Playing against other players of his size and skill level, Cook can quickly fall behind if not.

The learning experience is ongoing. Cook has played in 16 games this season, averaging 5.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game. It hasn’t been easy sitting and watching much of the time, but he’s been a key contributor in Huntington Prep’s 19-2 record and No. 9 national ranking from USA Today. He wants to be on the floor, but he understands his new role.

“Every season gets frustrating, but you just have to keep working,” said Cook, who understands his changing role. “I just have to keep running the floor better. Once I get in position, nobody can guard me. It’s just about getting in the right spot.

“It’s been good. It’s a great leaning experience.”

Cook said he’s continued to keep a close eye on Liberty, and he said he’s proud of what the Raiders are accomplishing on the hardwood. The decision to leave, he said, had nothing to do with the coaching staff at Liberty. He was getting good instruction, he said, and his game was developing. The problem was that the WVSSAC only allowed a limited number of practices throughout the year, and he was looking for more. He also wanted to go against more players of his size.

With the rest of this season and one more to play, Cook has big goals in mind by the time he leaves Huntington Prep.

“I want to win a national championship,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do.”

Personally, he hopes to continue to develop his game and wants to become a Top 5 center in his recruiting class before his high school career comes to an end.

Then it’s off to Morgantown, to realize his dream of playing for the Mountaineers.

 “I think we’re going to be really tough my freshman year,” said the junior. “We will have a lot of guys, and for me there will be a lot of good competition to go against every day.”

He’s also doing his part in trying to help bring more talent to Morgantown with him. JaQuan Lyle, who’s a 6-5 point guard averaging 20 points per game, backed out of his commitment to Louisville a couple of months ago, and WVU is among the schools receiving his interest. Cook said he’s, “been in his ear,” trying to help in that recruitment.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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