On May 8, Friends Central School announced that its head basketball coach had stepped down and that Mike Cook, a Friends Central grad and former Pitt Panther, would be taking over as head coach.
“I am looking forward to helping kids develop,” Cook told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “Helping them realize there is more to the game than just what you do on the court. Working with parents, getting out on the recruiting trail. More importantly, I was a former Friends Central student, so, the way it shaped my life, changed my life, and showed me a different perspective on things, I want to give other students like me that come from the environments that we came from, an opportunity somewhere different than what they’re used to. Maybe it is a little better, maybe there are more resources, but always seeing something different can be life-changing.”
A 6-foot-4, 215-pound forward from Philadelphia, Cook played two seasons for Pitt after transferring in from East Carolina and started every game in a Panther uniform. In his time with the Panthers, he averaged 10.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game across 48 games. He played for Pitt from 2006-08, and was a part of two NCAA Tournament teams as well as the Big East Champions squad in 2008.
“I would probably say my senior year after getting hurt,” Cook said about his favorite moment at Pitt. “Just seeing how, not only did the team rally, but just the amount of love and passion that the guys showed, and some that didn’t usually get big minutes. How the guys would always say, ‘We’re going to do it for you Mike.’ We were always a great team, a united team, but that just amplified it for me and that is why those guys will always have a special place in my heart no matter what.”
Cook is ecstatic about leading his alma mater, and wanted to give credit to five coaches that he had throughout his life for teaching him valuable lessons on and off the court.
— Jeff Capel (@jeffcapel) May 8, 2021
“My biggest two inspirations are my parents,” Cook said. “My dad, who passed away a couple of years ago, and my mom. Both played, both had hands in coaching, they’ve been key figures in my life for the athlete and now the coach. My AAU coach Larry Waiters, and my high school coach Keino Terrell.”
”One thing that I have learned from all of those people is that coaching is more than just X’s and O’s. It is having tough conversations with kids, it’s putting your arm around kids, it’s always being there for them. It is kind of like acting as a father figure for them, even if the kids do have fathers in their lives. At the end of the day, the parents are trusting you with their most prized possession. You want to make sure you nurture that relationship, and not only show them the game but also give them life lessons. Definitely Coach Dixon, too. Coach Dixon was definitely influential.”
Friends Central is in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, less than ten miles away from downtown Philadelphia. Being from such a historic basketball city, Cook is ready to go back home and immerse himself in the culture once more.
“Philly is one of those places where the basketball talent is rich,” he said. “In Philly, a big thing is debating who the best to come out of Philly is. It is kind of silly because every two to five years, there is new talent that enhances what the older generation does. Unlimited talent, strong basketball community that’s together. Overall, it is a great and rich basketball community.”
The school is known for its basketball program, which has a strong history and a long list of impressive alumni, including Amile Jefferson and DeAndre Hunter, who were recently big-time ACC players at Duke and Virginia, respectively.
“Friends Central is the same way. It is a small school, very humble, but highly successful as a program. We have had four NBA players, ten McDonalds All-Americans, three national champions that have come from our school, countless professional players, overseas players, but, we don’t boast about it. We go about our business, do what we do, enjoy the game that we love, and live in our world and try to give back as much as we can.”