Xavier Cooks could well be Australia’s next NBA player but the Sydney Kings star isn’t counting his chickens just yet.
In his fourth season with the Kings, Cooks has emerged as the team’s main man after star imports Jaylen Adams, Jarell Martin and Ian Clark departed the Kings following their NBL title win last season.
The Kings have a new look line-up this season with Cooks and new import Derrick Walton Jr forming a lethal one-two punch in a team boasting enviable depth down the roster.
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In the home stretch of the regular season, the Kings are on top of the NBL ladder and are the favourites to win back-to-back championships even though many believe they haven’t even reached top gear yet.
Cooks, last year’s Grand Final MVP, is one of the MVP contenders along with South East Melbourne’s Mitch Creek and Cairns Taipans’ star Keanu Pinder.
The 27-year-old has long been touted as an NBA-calibre player and if all goes well, he could finish up at the Kings with two championships to his name and get snapped up by an NBA team.
Cooks is aware at his age it’s nearly now-or-never to make the move to the US, but leading the Kings to another championship would make NBA franchises sit up and take notice.
“To be honest with you, if I don’t make it after this season it’s going to be pretty tough to do it,” he told news.com.au of his hopes of making it to the NBA.
“I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I’m about to be 28 years old next year. My window’s now. If it doesn’t happen after this year, it doesn’t happen.
“But I think my path to the NBA is winning another championship here and showing my value to a team.”
Asked if he plans to play in the NBA’s off-season Summer League or if he has a preference of team he’d like to join in an ideal world, Cooks said he’s focusing on winning another title with the Kings and isn’t looking that far ahead.
“I honestly have not thought about that (for) one second,” he said.
“People keep asking me what I’m doing in the off-season and I have no idea who we’re playing in three games time.
“I don’t know how I’m going to think that far ahead. I don’t really think about it too much.”
Cooks is in career-best form and admitted he is playing “pretty well” at the moment.
“I’ve really started to find a rhythm on this team. I really know my role on the team,” he said.
“Obviously it helps when the guys play well around me, make my job a lot easier. Credit to those guys. I’ve been pretty solid.”
Cooks’ versatility is arguably his greatest asset but he has shown serious flair, throwing down two monster one-handed poster dunks this season.
Forbes’ NBA writer Mark Deeks believes the 203cm forward has a future in the NBA, likening Cooks to Juan Toscano-Anderson, who won a title last season coming off the bench for the Golden State Warriors.
“He (Cooks) has become Australia’s highlight reel,” Deeks wrote.
“Big dunks are becoming a regular occurrence, and with his NBA length, athleticism and burst, he can crush it on anyone.
“As Juan Toscano-Anderson proved in his fairytale rise to the rotation with the same Warriors team that had Cooks on its radar, if you have an NBA physical profile, you will be found. And Cooks does.
“There is no reason that Cooks could not occupy a place on an NBA bench just as his Mexican forebear does. After all, now aged 27, he is about the same age that Toscano-Anderson did it too.”
In an ominous sign for the rest of the NBL, Cooks said the Kings are yet to hit their straps.
“I think we’ve got a lot of room to grow still, a lot of things to clear up a little bit,” he said.
“We’re off to a good start. It’s always good to be top of the ladder and all, but we’ve got a long way to go to win a championship.
“It comes down to fourth quarters. We’re just not finishing the games very well. I think just finishing games the right way and keeping our foot on the throttle.”