Like all of the seven new faces on the 2005-06 Longhorns team, 6-3 freshman post Aubry Cook came into the program as a highly-touted recruit. Although Cook spent her final season of high school basketball at Houston's Cy-Fair High School on the bench nursing an ACL tear (after leading the basketball powerhouse to a 34-3 record and fifth-place tie in Texas Class 5A tourney action as a junior), she has shaken off a year's absence from the game.
Prior to her injury, the All-American Cook was ranked as the nation's No. 22 recruit overall and a top 10 post player by the All-Star Girls Report recruiting service. Slowly and efficiently, the rookie post made her way through UT summer and preseason training, and now finds herself improving one game at a time.
And those improvements are coming quickly.
After sitting out in the first exhibition game against Everyone's Internet, Cook came off the bench against the Houston Jaguars to score 11 points and grab four rebounds. Since then, Cook has seen action in every regular season game and has gradually accustomed herself to the college level of playing.
Entering tonight's game against Stephen F. Austin, Cook is averaging nearly 11 minutes, four points and three assists per game while hitting at a team-leading 56 percent in field goal shooting.
"The exhibition games were pretty nerve-racking, not only because they were our first games as freshmen, but because early injuries forced Tiffany [Jackson] and Nina [Norman] to take it easy. We all had to step up and fill in their spots and I think we're slowly finding what clicks for us in order to keep winning," said Cook.
Cook brings a grit and determination to the Longhorns' post play. As a youngster, she was tutored in the nuances of frontcourt play by her dad (now deceased), former LSU center Greg "Cookieman" Cook who played in the 1981 Final Four for the Tigers and went on to a European professional playing career.
"Aubry comes to us with an incredible background, and she really has a nose for post play and a grit and toughness that we really need," noted Texas associate head coach Karen Aston. "We are pleased with Aubry's progress, especially since she missed all of last year with her injury. She has a certain presence when she takes to the floor, and we are relying on her to provide us with rebounding strength and low-post scoring."
"The game of basketball is intense at the college level, and, on top of that, the post position gets tougher because the players we go up against are equally, if not more, physical than we are," noted Cook, who lists star forwards 6-8 LeBron James and 6-3 Tina Thompson as the two pro players she admires the most. "The summer conditioning and weight training really helped because it trained our bodies take all the physical beatings we'll get during games."
Known for the defense under the net, Cook has found a mentor in practice to improve her offensive production and post skills.
"I've been guarding Tiffany during practice and picking up some of her moves," Cook noted. "They say that if you want to be the best, you have to play against the best. Given that we have one of the top college players on our team, I think I'm on the right track."
Describing herself as "aggressive" on the court, Aubry calls herself "goofy, independent and social" off the court. An education major who loves to shop and talk on the phone, Cook hopes to turn her interests into a career as a fashion designer.
But first, she will use her talents to help the UT coaches design great post play and help build camaraderie among the young rookies and upperclassmen.
"I think we have real good team chemistry because we started early to build our team and blend the seven freshmen with the returners," Cook noted. "The summer practices and conditioning really helped because it took away all awkwardness between the freshmen and upperclassmen before the fall semester. We didn't need to worry about getting along when practice started because we were already friends by the time classes started."
Like her teammates, Aubry knows that the team is capable of winning another Big 12 title and a national championship and knows that those goals can only be through lots of practice and experience against top-notch opponents.
With a schedule that pits Texas against many teams ranked in the top 25, Cook says that the Longhorns must focus on one game at a time, instead of eyeing the future.
"We've already taken on Tennessee and Duke, but our schedule is no where near easy," Cook stated. "We still have Rutgers, Connecticut, and Baylor to play, and the entire Big 12 Conference is tough, to be honest. I hope that we can go out on the floor hard and give it all we can no matter which team we're playing that night. We certainly saw how important effort and focus was in our games against Tennessee and Duke."
Count on Cook to take these observations and carry them over to her own play on the court as the season progresses.