Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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Protein shakes at any time, 24-hour access to a weight room and three square meals a day. There are a lot of factors that go into the maturation of any young player, but those are three of the most important for freshman guard Daquan Cook.
Cook didn’t always get enough food growing up in Baltimore, something he hasn’t had to worry about at UNLV. Though he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, in reality Cook probably doesn’t touch either one of those. In his own estimation, Cook said he’s at about 165 pounds, which includes the 25 pounds he said he’s gained with the help of strength coach Jason Kabo since stepping on campus this summer.
Cook still has a long way to go in his development as a Rebel. However, he’s now at the point where he’s holding his own more often in practice and making UNLV coach Dave Rice more comfortable with the idea of putting him in the game moving forward.
“I think (Cook) will give me an opportunity to sub Anthony Marshall a little bit more because he’s playing very well right now,” Rice said.
The next chance to do that is at 7 p.m. Tuesday against UNR (11-8, 2-3) on CBS Sports Network. This is the first time UNLV (16-4, 3-2) and UNR will meet as members of the Mountain West, and it’s also the first game that will count towards the Governor’s Series, an all-sports competition between the rivals established last October.
In last year’s meeting, Marshall was 0 for 7 from the field and the Rebels escaped at the Thomas & Mack Center with a 71-67 victory. The Wolf Pack return their two leading scorers from that game — guards Deonte Burton and Malik Story — who form one of the best back courts in the league.
That being UNR’s strength, Marshall would figure to be out on the court as much as possible. Trouble is he’s already averaging a league-leading 37.2 minutes per game in conference play.
Rice has often talked about how tired his team was at the end of last season. Though Marshall said he takes a copious number of ice baths and goes to the spa whenever possible, playing that many minutes consistently going forward seems likely to wear him down.
“I’m very mindful of making sure we have our legs down the stretch,” Rice said. “Having said that, the priority still has to be just trying to win our next game, whatever that takes.”
The youngest Rebel can often be found attached to Marshall’s hip, picking up a constant stream of advice and experience from watching and listening to the senior point guard. Though Marshall said his own demeanor is different from the alpha dog mentality of former Rebel Tre’Von Willis, the messages are similar to the ones Marshall received when he went against Willis.
“Each day in practice I try to go at (Cook) as hard as I can. I try to get the best out of him,” Marshall said. “… I’m trying to pass on the things (Willis) showed me even though the way we go about things is different.”
The messages mixed with the added weight have made Cook more of a viable option to go into a game and lead the offense for an extended period. Cook is coming off arguably his best game of the season, when he had two assists and no turnovers plus a rebound in nine minutes against Wyoming. Those are modest figures, sure, and several of the possessions featured Marshall at shooting guard. Still, they represent larger improvements in his game.
“The biggest difference is I actually have to think the game through more,” Cook said. “When I first got here I used to go do what I would do in high school, and I saw that that wouldn’t work at the college level.”
Marshall added that Cook is reading defenses and finding weaknesses in a way he couldn’t before.
Cook originally was going to take a redshirt this season. The coaching staff reversed that decision at the end of November, but Cook still didn’t play until the La Verne game on Dec. 13. Rice said the momentary redshirt probably set Cook back a bit, something one could infer by watching Cook play three minutes or less in more than half of his appearances this year (he’s averaging 4.8 minutes in 12 games).
That short leash may be getting a little longer. And though moving Marshall to shooting guard relieves some stress on him, the next move would seem to be giving Cook the keys to the offense with Marshall resting on the bench.
That’s not something Rice always would have been comfortable with, but Cook appears to be growing into the role.
“Every opportunity I get, every second I get on the floor, I just play my hardest,” Cook said. “And I keep playing hard in practice; that will make my time keep growing.”
Birch will come off the bench
Sophomore forward Khem Birch missed a flight coming back from his father’s wedding in Canada on Sunday, forcing him to miss UNLV’s practice. As a result, Birch will come off the bench against UNR, though Rice said Birch still would play a “significant number of minutes.”