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Xavier Cooks ready to help Wizards after whirlwind road to NBA

Cooks ready to help Wizards after unusual path originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — Xavier Cooks had just finished leading his Sydney Kings to the National Basketball League (NBL) championship in Australia when it was time to embark on one of the longest flights possible in this world.

Cooks was ready for his next assignment, with the Washington Wizards, where he would realize a lifelong dream of playing in the NBA. Still sore from a full season’s grind, he flew roughly 20 hours to join his new team all the way across the globe.

“I played the Grand Final, then I got on a plane the next morning. That plane ride, I was stiff the whole time,” Cooks said.

With a nine-hour time difference and no practices to learn the Wizards’ plays, Cooks made his NBA debut on Saturday night, ironically, against the Sacramento Kings. He became the fifth-oldest player to make his debut in a Wizards/Bullets uniform at 27 years and 211 days old.

Before Cooks became a star in Australia, winning the NBL’s MVP award, he played at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. After graduating, he spent some time with the Warriors in the 2018 Summer League. That’s where he crossed paths with Kendrick Nunn, the only Wizards teammate he knew before signing.

Cooks spent one season playing in Germany before going to Australia. That’s where he matured as a basketball player and prepared himself for the NBA.

“Mostly just confidence and believing in myself,” Cooks said of what he gained in the NBL. “I did my first Summer League coming out of college and I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.”

Cooks believes his game currently shows signs of each stop he’s made along the way. In Europe, he grew accustomed to physical basketball. The NBL, meanwhile, is a fast league, which allowed Cooks to speed up his game.

The finished product is a player head coach Wes Unseld Jr. believes can help the Wizards in both the short-term this season and beyond, as he’s signed through 2023-24.

“Another guy with size and athleticism. He’s got the versatility, I think, to defend multiple positions,” Unseld Jr. explained. “He has energy, a lot of the intangibles. A lot of times when you need a shot in the arm, you want a guy who can get to those 50-50 balls. He’s a dynamic roller, an underrated playmaker in the pocket. “

Cooks described his game similarly. He mentioned doing the little things like fighting for loose balls. Scouts consistently point out his passing as a plus skill. And it doesn’t take much time watching his highlights to see that he can play above the rim and deliver momentum-changing dunks.

Cooks may take some time to get used to the NBA and his new team on the court, but he already feels DC will be a natural fit. Although he grew up in Australia, his four years at a US college helped him transition to life in the States and he’s already an American citizen. He also happens to have family in the DC area.

“I wouldn’t start driving yet, but I’m comfortable around here,” he joked, as Australians drive on the left side of the road.

The next few days and weeks will be a crash course for Cooks to learn the Wizards’ playbook, terminology and the names of all his new colleagues. It’s likely to take some time, but he made it all the way here. That’s the first step.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s been a lifelong dream to get here,” Cooks said of the NBA. “It’s taken me 27 years to get here. I’m, what, five years out of college? My dream is a little bit different than everybody else’s.”

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