Past and present collided on Monday night as a pair of former Huskers teamed up with a newcomer to the Nebraska program in the Omaha Metro Pro-Am Summer league.
Dachon Burke Jr. has been playing in the league all month alongside Glynn Watson Jr., but with a couple of key guys unavailable for the playoffs, Burke did some recruiting for his team last week. Hallice Cooke, one of Nebraska’s two new graduate managers, joined Burke’s Churchill Mortgage squad ahead of last week’s first-round game.
Cooke dropped 25 points in a five-point win last Thursday to help Churchill Mortgage advanced to the quarterfinals, then matched that performance with another 25 on Monday, hitting seven 3s in each game. Churchill Mortgage’s run came to an end on Monday, however, as the team fell by two.
Fans who made the trip to Going Vertical on Monday night saw former Creighton Bluejays, Omaha Mavericks and Cornhuskers all take the court alongside other college and pro players with local ties.
“It reminds me of the one we’ve got in Jersey — a little less talented, but still high-level play,” Cooke told Hail Varsity.
Basketball has taken Cooke all over the country. The New Jersey native began his college career at Oregon State where he earned Pac-12 All-Freshman Honorable Mention honors after averaging 8.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
He transferred to Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State program after his freshman year and sat out the 2014-15 season as a redshirt, then played in 32 games off the Cyclone bench the following season, Steve Prohm’s first as head coach in Ames. He averaged just 2.6 points in 10.9 minutes per game, then transferred again to finish his career at Nevada.
After another sit-out year, Cooke played an important role for the Wolfpack, averaging 4.7 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 20.1 minutes per game. Cooke played in 37 games with 12 starts as Nevada made it to the Sweet 16 in 2018. The 6-foot-3 guard shot 44.4% from 3 during his 101-game collegiate career.
Hoiberg and Abdelmassih had Cooke in mind for a graduate manager position during their first year in Lincoln, but Cooke wasn’t quite ready at that point.
“Coach Abdelmassih called me right after I was done playing at Nevada,” Cooke said. “I told him I needed a couple more years. I wanted to play a little bit more. A couple years later, C.J. Wilcher had transferred and Matt and I had gotten in touch, and we made it happen.”
Wilcher, a transfer from Xavier heading into his first season at Nebraska, is a fellow New Jersey native and made the trip up to Omaha to watch Cooke play last week.
Cooke has been in Nebraska for more than a month now and is starting to settle in.
“It reminds me a lot of Ames, the life style,” Cooke said. “It’s really slow. Nebraska’s the only pro team kind of, with the college. Just looking for that success now.”
Cooke never got a chance to play for Hoiberg as the Chicago Bulls hired Hoiberg away from Iowa State following Cooke’s redshirt year. Now Cooke will get another chance to work under Hoiberg again in a different role.
“I get to learn from him,” Cooke said. “He’s a great mentor and he’s also a person that played at the highest level, so I get to learn a lot from him.”
Cooke said he’s liked what he’s seen so far from the Huskers in their summer open gyms and workouts.
“We look very good,” Cooke said. “We’ve got a lot of young potential. Now it’s just time to develop them and build championship habits every day, coming in that gym bringing that energy and just trying to execute what Coach wants to get done.”
One player in particular that has drawn Cooke’s attention is Bryce McGowens, Nebrasketball’s first 5-star recruit.
“I like challenging Bryce,” Cooke said. “He has a lot expected of him so I try to get him ready for a lot fo the mental things.”
With several underclassman newcomers — Bryce included — in the program, Cooke said he’s also challenged the returning veterans like Trey McGowens every day to embrace leadership roles and get the young guys up to speed.
Cooke’s run in the Omaha Metro Pro-Am Summer League is over, but his time at Nebraska is just getting started and he’s looking forward to helping establish the kind of winning culture in Lincoln that he was a part of at Iowa State and Nevada during his playing career.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.