Surviving the lows to reach the heights

Joe Cook-Green in action for the Canterbury Rams earlier this season. PHOTO: KAI SCHWOERER
Joe Cook-Green in action for the Canterbury Rams earlier this season. PHOTO: KAI SCHWOERER
Joe Cook-Green admits there was a time when he questioned whether it was all worth it.

The Dunedin product was preparing for his first National Basketball League season since leaving for college in the United States five years earlier.

A highly touted prospect at Otago Boys’ High School, Cook-Green had bounced back from a ruptured Achilles in his final year of high school to put together a handy college career.

He had rejoined the Canterbury Rams, where he moved for that final year at school, and was set to play in the 2020 NBL Showdown.

Then he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

It was a second major injury for the 1.83m guard — both of them potentially career-ending.

That season ended up a write-off, while the next one was reduced to a handful of games at the back end.

He has come through the other side, though.

Earlier this year, the 24-year-old made what not so long ago may have seemed an improbable Tall Blacks debut.

He has impressed for the Rams, too — notably in his ability to clamp ball handlers, while also going at 12.3 points per game.

As he prepares to return to Dunedin to face his hometown Otago Nuggets tomorrow night, he is happy with his form.

More than that, he is simply happy to be playing.

"The Achilles, I was super young when that happened," Cook-Green said.

"I always knew I’d be able to bounce back and give basketball my next shot.

"When my knee went, I was questioning whether it was worth it. But I just love to hoop so much.

"I just worked hard and the last few years were definitely tough.

"But to be out on the court now, and still be able to hoop and move the way I’m moving, I’m just happy to be playing."

He has not lived in Dunedin since 2014 but Cook-Green still calls it home.

The Edgar Centre remains his favourite venue, and he was excited to return to "where it all started".

Cook-Green was part of a strong era of Otago junior basketball.

Alongside a host of future professional players including Sam Timmins, Richie Rodger and Josh Aitcheson, he helped Otago to the national under-17 title in 2013.

A year later, he starred on the Otago Boys’ team that won the national secondary schools title, and played his one and only game for the Otago Nuggets.

They were good memories, and he said the group still talked of those days regularly.

"I just remember me and 20 other kids in Dunedin, pretty much my whole OBs team, all working together, all with the same goal of trying to get overseas and get as good as we can with basketball.

"The intensity and mentorship of [Mark] Dickel and Greg [Brockbank] and all the guys that were helping us out back then. But always good memories when I think of those morning trainings and all that."

His aim had been to get to the US and, while he lost a lot of interest from schools following the Achilles injury, he was pleased to have lived out that dream.

He retains big goals.

Making the Tall Blacks was "a dream come true", while he has hopes of securing a contract to play overseas.

That was the trajectory he was destined for as a teenager.

While there has been the occasional "what if" moment, he does not let those thoughts consume him.

"Definitely in the dark moments, yeah.

"Whenever I do get in that sort of mindset I think ‘what if?’.

"I might have been dunking a bit more if these injuries didn’t happen. Maybe I could have been a high-flyer or something, I’m not sure.

"But I don’t get into that mindset too much. It definitely doesn’t help. I’m just super blessed and super happy to be playing this sport."

He gave an assurance he would add to his one Nuggets appearance.

"I’ll definitely be back one day. That’s always a goal of mine."

jeff.cheshire@odt.co.nz

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