From Sydney to Washington: Can Xavier Cooks make magic with the Wizards?
A look back on Cooks' long and winding path to the NBA. What lies ahead in Washington?
Credit: May Bailey Photography
For years now, Xavier Cooks has been touted as Australia’s next NBA player. Even before he signed with the Sydney Kings in 2019 and announced himself to the broader Australian public, the star forward was on the radar of those in the United States, thanks to his stellar play in college and overseas.
His progress was twice derailed by injury, first when he was on the cusp of a World Cup selection with the Boomers in 2019, and then a year later as an NBL breakout loomed. Talk of his imminent future at the top level only grew louder over the last two years, though, as he has dominated the NBL, racking up two All-NBL selections, a Larry Sengstock Medal, an Andrew Gaze Medal, and one (for now) championship.
Despite being so close to his dream that he could almost touch it, Cooks refused to take a shortcut down the beaten path. Maybe that’s because the tried and true avenues to the league had already failed him — he was undrafted in 2019 despite a stellar four-year college career at Winthrop University, and a pair of NBA Summer League stints in the years following were just as fruitless.
While most players on the fringes of the NBA were playing in Summer League last July, Cooks was in New Zealand representing the Wellington Saints; after those previous trips to the NBA’s preseason showcase proved unsuccessful, he opted to play meaningful games rather than “glorified pickup” and won an MVP award there. Around that same time, there were whispers that he had been in discussions with the Brooklyn Nets around a two-way contract; instead, he backed himself to earn even more by re-signing with Sydney.
Those decisions paid off in spades last week, with Adrian Wojnarowski announcing that Cooks has agreed to a two-year deal with the Washington Wizards. The NBL MVP will try to claim a second straight title in game five of the championship series tomorrow night, then jump on the next flight to DC and join the Wizards in their push for the playoffs. “Something you've worked on for so long, and something you've dreamt on for so long, and you finally get there. It's an amazing feeling,” Cooks told ESPN Australia.
It’s a whirlwind scenario for a player that has stayed patient for so long, eschewing short-term opportunities for the long-term gain of a full roster spot and a multi-year contract even as the clock ticked down on him. “As I’ve gotten older, I realised they don’t want to bring in a 28 year old rookie,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Luckily enough, they’re bringing in a 27 year old rookie.”
An NBA skillset in an Aussie body
It’s easy to see why an NBA team has taken a shot on Cooks, even as an older rookie.
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