There’s no place like home for Preston Cook.
After a standout career at Class 7A Auburn High, Cook is taking his shot at playing for Auburn University as a walk-on. Bruce Pearl's Tigers will hold tryouts in September.
Cook had looks from smaller Division I schools such as Grambling State and Kennesaw State, and held scholarship opportunities from multiple Division II and Division III schools, but the appeal to stay home was too great for Cook.
“It was just where my heart was at,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to a school and not really enjoy it. I felt like I was good enough to play at Auburn, and I knew I could play with them. I think I just wanted to see about the chance to walk on with Auburn.”
Primarily a shooting guard, the 6-foot-4 Cook showed his ability to be a combo guard and even play down low as a small forward for Auburn High the past few years. After averaging 10.8 points per game, 1.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds as a junior, Cook upped his numbers to 11 ppg, 1.9 apg and 5.6 rpg while also blocking 14 shots and grabbing 20 steals as a senior.
Though he finished his high school career on a high note in the regional finals, Cook recognizes that making it to the next level, particularly an SEC level for a program that is coming off a regular-season championship year, will take more than “just playing some pickup.”
“I think I just have to go in there, play my game, play defense, get after it and hustle. I think that if I do that, I’ll be okay. I just have to keep my mind right and my grades up; I think then everything will fall in place, if I do that.”
Pearl’s team lost a pair of guards from last year’s team with Mustapha Heron transfer to St. John’s and Davion Mitchell’s exodus for Baylor. However, they return Bryce Brown (31.2 mpg, 15.9 ppg); Jared Harper (30.5 mpg, 13.2 ppg, 5.4 apg) and add Samir Doughty who redshirted per NCAA rules after transferring from VCU.
Additionally, Auburn added JUCO product J’Von McCormick from Lee College where he averaged 19.3 points, 6.9 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, and they also have Spain Park High product Jamal Johnson who is redshirting after transferring from Memphis in May.
Of the five walk-ons Auburn has on its current roster, four are guards. Another, Patrick Keim (who earned a scholarship last season), graduated after last season.
“They have a lot of great players, a lot of NBA caliber players,” Cook said. “They’re all winners, as you can see from last year. I think the whole team is awesome. I just really want to work with everybody.”
Still, what could have been a daunting decision to eschew other opportunities for a chance to play at home for a premier program was eased by the support of his family.
“They were excited. Actually, they wanted me to do it beforehand. I told them, ‘I’ll think about it, I’ll think about it..’ As time went on, I fell in love with it. I’ve been to Auburn my whole life; I think it’s destined to be. I love Auburn, I love basketball; why not play it in your hometown in front of your friends and family, and have everyone here to support you.”
From now until the September tryout date, the goal will be simple for Cook.
“Just develop, just keep working hard and work on my skills; just trying to be the best basketball player I possibly can be,” he said. “I think if I do that and I work hard, I’ll be fine.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to play for Auburn and having Auburn across my chest. I’m just looking forward to it.”