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NBA Draft feature

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by RookieBall, Jun 28, 2006.

  1. RookieBall

    RookieBall New Member

    Semi-regular poster using a new handle. I live 15 minutes from Tahoe. I think I've finally torn down my ego enough to withstand the board.

    I'll give some background before posting this story:

    Lenny Cooke was the subject of an in-depth ESPN.com feature and an OTL segment a few years back. When I finally got in touch with him for this story, we arranged an in-person interview, which he blew off. He then had his cell phone turned off and I was unable to get back in touch with him. After two months of calls, his agent didn't call me back until the afternoon the story was set to run.

    Let the games begin.
  2. RookieBall

    RookieBall New Member

    From stud to draft-day dud: Cooke now traveling basketball’s minor leagues
    His most recent coach says he doesn’t have a posse anymore. It left him long ago.
    If the story was a fairy tale, you would be able to say that Lenny Cooke dropped the posse, worked hard and was able to grind his way into the NBA. But Cooke was waived by the CBA’s Rockford Lightning and coach Chris Daleo in February and now dabbles in promotions for a hip-hop record label.
    He says his basketball days aren’t over. But the NBA seems as far away as ever for the former phenom. Three serious injuries in four years and failed attempts to play in the Philippines and Kuwait will do that for you.

    When the NBA draft is held tonight at Madison Square Garden, there won’t be a high-schooler selected thanks to the newly imposed age limit. The age limit wouldn’t have stopped Cooke in 2002 — he was already 20 years old by draft day, despite his status as a high school senior — but you could still call it the “Lenny Cooke rule” without attracting confused looks.
    Leading up to that draft, Cooke was the LeBron James of the streets. In fact, some thought Cooke, a 6-6 wingman with long arms and the athleticism of a cheetah, was better than James.
    “We played against Lenny at Riverside Church,” former Duke star Jay Williams says. “Playing against Lenny, you thought, ‘Damn, this kid is going to be good.’ He owned this [city] for a while.”
    That reputation led to the most-hyped high school camp game of all time, a 2001 matchup between Cooke and James at the ABCD camp in Teaneck, N.J. Cooke scored nine points. James scored 24.
    Rivalry over.
    “That was like you had two kings from different countries do battle, and one is going to have to win,” says former St. John’s coach Mike Jarvis, who was at the camp game. “The one that won was better. I didn’t think he was ever the same after that. It was a sign — he probably needed more time.”
    The comparisons — perhaps unrealistic — to James gone, Cooke was unable to keep his draft stock afloat. He flirted with attending college, showing interest in St. John’s, but needed significant improvements in his grades to qualify through the NCAA Clearinghouse. He couldn’t play at New Jersey’s Northern Valley Regional High in 2001-02 because, at 19 years old when the season started, he had exhausted his eligibility.
    Cooke eventually decided to leave the home of his benefactor, Debbie Bortner, and join a former Michigan Wolverines assistant coach, Terrence Greene, in Michigan to prepare for the draft.
    And so began a journey that has become even more winding than the one that took Cooke through five high schools during his adolescence.
  3. RookieBall

    RookieBall New Member


    Draft day came and went, and Lenny Cooke wasn’t part of an NBA organization. That summer, he had an unsuccessful tryout with the Seattle Supersonics; then, he was drafted by the Columbus RiverDragons of the NBDL in the 11th round — and was cut in training camp.
    By then, most of the posse was long gone.
    “Ultimately, the animals got to him — the disreputable people were able to get to him,” Bortner, who was Cooke’s AAU coach for a couple years before taking him in during high school, says of the time leading up to the draft. “All those unscrupulous people, where are they now?”
    For several years, Bortner was the reason that Cooke was able to entertain thoughts of big-time college and pro basketball. She was the first person to tell him he could be a professional (after an AAU tournament in New Jersey) and she was the one who helped him out of the cycle of bad schools and cut classes. Cooke left his Brooklyn home with his mother and moved in with Bortner so he could attend Northern Valley and get away from the street culture that was getting him into bad habits.
    Bortner is also the person that Cooke left when he decided to train with Greene before the draft. Yet the two remain close, like a mother figure and a son, she says. And she’s fiercely protective — just ask her about Greene or the other hangers-on that surrounded Cooke when he figured to be an NBA draft pick.
    “[Greene] is a highly unethical human being. Highly unethical,” she says. “If [the hangers-on] were to have a child and somebody went behind their backs to their child, I don’t think they would approve either. I think they would feel the same way that I feel. They stepped outside boundaries and went after a kid that was susceptible to the craziness of the world.”
    It only got crazier. Without the hype, and after he rehabbed from a dislocated elbow suffered during a pick-up game while working out with former Knick John Starks, Cooke starred for a season in the USBL for the Brooklyn Kings. An appearance in the NBA Pro Summer League with the Boston Celtics in 2003 didn’t get him a contract, and he spent the next year playing in the Philippines (twice) and China. But during his second stint with the PBA’s TJ Purefoods HotDogs, Cooke tore his Achilles, requiring surgery.
    Another continent, another injury.
    He made it back to the court eight months later, this time with the Long Beach Jam of the ABA in November of 2004. But good health didn’t last long — he was with the Jam just over a month before he was the passenger in a car accident that broke his shin and femur. It could have been worse — Cooke wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and those close to him felt lucky he was alive after the crash.
    Another 10 months of rehab followed. But after spending the first few weeks in a wheelchair, his weight ballooned by more than 25 pounds. He tried to return to another team in the Philippines league, but came back unsigned over concerns about his playing shape. He latched on with the Rockford Lightning, but played only 20 games before being waived as the team approached the playoffs. A workout for a team in Kuwait ended the same way his trip to the Philippines did.
    “There was a period after the [leg] injuries where maybe he had lost some desire,” says Ken Glassman, his agent. “He’s sitting in wheelchair and on crutches and not able to do anything. There’s time to reflect on life and everything can go two ways — maybe that was a period where he lost a little desire.”
    Six different minor-league stints in four years — plus five failed attempts to catch on with NBA or minor-league teams — wasn’t the way Cooke envisioned life in basketball. Or anybody envisioned.
  4. RookieBall

    RookieBall New Member


    Mike Jarvis says he’d be lying if he pretended he knew Cooke well. But Jarvis knew him as a player well enough to recruit him for St. John’s in 2001-02, even though he’d have a difficult time qualifying and staying eligible.
    “He wasn’t ready [for the NBA],” Jarvis says. “Like 99.9 percent of kids. He wasn’t there yet. The wine wasn’t ready.”
    There were plenty of signs that Cooke wasn’t ready. Many NBA scouts saw a raw athlete who could eventually be a player, but one who built a reputation on fast breaks and dominating less capable players.
    But like the many prep stars who have been talked into believing the hype, there was misinformation in the pipeline.
    “It comes from people who will see him do something they believe is extraordinary,” says Charlotte Bobcats scout Kenny Williamson. “All of a sudden, the word of mouth gets bigger than the event itself. A lot is taken out of context.
    “People start trying to invent things. They created it — a first-rounder, an NBA All-Star. In fact, he was a young man trying to find his way, and he didn’t get the proper help and/or guidance.”
    Those around Cooke now don’t deny that he bears some of the responsibility for that. The people who gave him information were the people he chose to let into his life. But categorically, they’re also quick to remind critics that he was practically a kid when he made those choices.
    “Everyone makes mistakes. His mistakes got blown out of proportion, and he’s not the only one,” Bortner says. “I’m not blaming anybody. Look, I got married when I was 18. The decisions you make when you’re 18 are not necessarily ones you’re going to make when you’re 28, 38 or 48. Unfortunately, the decisions he made at the time will always be brought back up.”
    His decisions also served as notice that young players need better direction — a crucial factor in the decision of the NBA owners to institute an age limit for the draft. But what’s the right age for a limit?
    Bortner says Cooke is much more mature now than he was as a 19- or 20-year-old. But is that mature enough?
    There are still signs he might not be. Among other things, he recently skipped a possible basketball tour of China without letting coach Chris Daleo know.
    “I called Lenny, he said ‘Great, I’m going,’” says Daleo, who describes Cooke as “a great kid.” “[Agent] Kenny Glassman said, ‘Yeah that’s a good situation, great.’ Then Lenny’s phone got disconnected.
    “He should be calling me. I can’t afford to be having my sponsor spending a thousand dollars on a flight if he isn’t going to call back. It’s a two-way street. Lenny’s got to step up to and get in shape. If you can’t afford a gym membership, get out and go run around the block.”
    There are indications that he is taking the criticism to heart. Bortner saw him last weekend and said he is still losing weight gained following the accident, and he says he is working out regularly. But his past mistakes still follow him.
    If Cooke had gone to college and stayed four years, this would be the year he graduated. The year he entered the NBA Draft as a chiseled prospect in a weak draft class.
    Now, that’s only left up to the imagination.
  5. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mr Ball,

    Content: Industrial strength. You can't lose with stuff like this.

    I think you stumble out of the blocks a bit. To wit:

    His most recent coach says (1) he doesn’t have a posse anymore. It left him long ago.

    If the story was a fairy tale, (2) you would be able to say that Lenny Cooke dropped the posse, worked hard and was able to grind his way into the NBA. But Cooke was waived (3) by the CBA’s Rockford Lightning and coach Chris Daleo in February and now dabbles in promotions for a hip-hop record label. (4)

    He says (5) his basketball days aren’t over. But the NBA seems as far away as ever for the former phenom. (6) Three serious injuries in four years and failed attempts to play in the Philippines and Kuwait will do that for you. (7)

    1. "most recent coach" doesn't add anything. Lenny Cooke has lost his posse. His crew hasn't been around for a long time.
    Or: Lenny Cooke is one of the saddest figures in basketball, a playground legend with a posse.
    2. "fairy tale" is presented clumsily. I don't even know if it what you intend. It's more a boilerplate story rather than a fairy tale. This isn't an inspirational story of a guy who rid himself of bad influences, worked hard and made good on his early promise. Something like that.
    3. "was waived" is too passive. The CBA's Rockford Lightning, the latest team to tire of Cooke's act, waived the former high-school phenom. The posse gave up on him some time earlier."
    4. "hip hop" is out of sequence. You are in basketball, go to hip hop and go back to ball. While you're in ball stay there.
    5. Can we have him saying something?
    6. Must be better established.
    7. Again timing is all jumbled. And I don't think it's the message of the story. His is a case of too-much-too-soon. He was done by the time he was a gypsy gettingt injured.

    Nut graf Possibly
    Five teams in three years, stints in Phillipines and Kuwait, three serious injuries: The NBA has been getting farther and farther away for Cooke. These days he's dabbling in promotion for a hip-hop label. When he says his shot at the NBA isn't over, it sounds like so much spin. If you can't convince your posse, etc ...

    Beyond that, I feel that your story just stops rather than ends. If you could introduce a theme or phrase in the end that figures in your lead it would offer closure.

    Just some thoughts--a lede in a little more linear fashion would help the reader along.

    YHS, etc
  6. DyePack

    DyePack New Member

    The lede lost me. I'll look at it again later and see if I have an alternate suggestion.
  7. JME

    JME Member

    It's certainly a great topic.
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