For Norm Cook, success was fleeting

Ex-Jayhawk, whose son Brian plays for Illinois, had only a short stay in the NBA

By Chuck Woodling , Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Even the most fervent Kansas University men's basketball fan might have trouble answering this question:


Journal-World File Photo

Former KU player Norm Cook, seen receiving his Big Eight Conference Freshman of the Year Award from Chancellor Archie Dykes, has a son on Illinois' basketball team.

Who are the three former Jayhawks who have been selected in the first round of the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics?

Paul Pierce is easy. The former KU All-American was the Celtics' first-rounder two years ago. Jo Jo White isn't difficult, either. Also an All-American, White was Boston's first pick in 1969.

The third former Jayhawk taken by the Celtics was not an All-American although, like Pierce, he made himself available for the NBA draft following his junior year and, like St. Louis native White, he grew up in the Mississippi River Valley area.

Unfortunately, Boston's decision to select Norm Cook with its first pick in the 1976 NBA draft was probably the zenith of Cook's career.

Perhaps you've heard Cook's story. In a nutshell, he lasted one year with the Celtics, played minor league basketball, then returned to his hometown of Lincoln, Ill., where he fathered two girls and a boy (Brian, now a 6-foot-10 sophomore standout for Illinois University).

After several run-ins with the law, Norm Cook was diagnosed as paranoid and schizoid in 1996. He has been incarcerated ever since. Joyce Cook divorced him in 1986.

Back in the late '60s and during most of the '70s, KU head coach Ted Owens and top aide Sam Miranda spent more time recruiting Illinois than any other state. In those days, they successfully landed such standouts as Dave Robisch, Tom Kivisto, Rodger Bohnenstiehl, Rick Suttle, Roger Brown, Dale Greenlee and Roger Morningstar, among others.

And, of course, Norm Cook.

A high school All-American, Cook had averaged 23.8 points a game while leading Lincoln's Community High to a 30-1 record during his senior year. Cook did not go wanting for college coaches beating a path to his doorstep.

One way Owens was able to lure Cook to Mount Oread was to offer his high school coach, Duncan Reid, a job on his staff.

"It hurt Norm that when he left here he didn't have Duncan Reid with him," said Morningstar, a Cook teammate for two seasons in the mid-70s. "Duncan had him on a structured program. He'd get in Norm's face. Some kids don't respond to that. Some do. Norm did."

I'll never forget Norm Cook's first game in a Kansas uniform. Few first-year KU players have made such a splash. It wasn't so much that Cook scored 21 points in an easy win over Murray State, it was that he made all 10 of his shots.

Norm Cook showed the Allen Fieldhouse fans something else on that fall night in 1973. He exhibited one of the most unusual jump shots they'd ever seen. Every time Cook jumped to shoot, he fluttered his feet.

"I don't know why he did it," Morningstar said. "It was a funny little ballet kick, kind of a duck flutter. We used to make fun of it as teammates will do."

Cook was named the Big Eight Conference freshman of the year in 1973-74. He was the starting forward on a KU team that reached the NCAA Final Four. Two years later, he was the Jayhawks' leading scorer at 14.8 points a game. A year after that, he was in the NBA. Then the decline started.

"He was a good jump shooter, but not a great jump shooter," Morningstar said. "We couldn't dunk back then so he couldn't do thunderous dunks, but he had big hands and he could run and he could defend."

To tell the truth, I've watched Brian Cook play and, if I didn't know he was Norm's son, I wouldn't have guessed they were father and son. Young Cook can shoot like his dad, but he's taller and bulkier. Strength wasn't Norm Cook's strong suit and his son appears to be more of a finesse player, too.

During the 100th anniversary of Kansas University basketball a couple of years ago, Morningstar played host to a reunion of the '74 NCAA Final Four team. Norm Cook was one of the few who didn't make it.

"It's a terrible tragedy," Morningstar said.