Jalen Cook ready for basketball season after passing up football 

Jalen Cook earned the state's Mr. Basketball award last year as he averaged 29.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists while leading Walker High School to a runner-up finish in the Class 5A playoffs.

This came after a sophomore season in which he led the Wildcats to their first state championship.

Some potentially scary news for future Walker opponents: Cook did all those things while splitting time as a star wide receiver/defensive back on the Walker football team.

That is no longer the case.

Weeks before the start of his senior year, Cook, a recent LSU basketball signee, announced he had laced his cleats for the last time.

That means the Wildcats' point guard has had even more time to concentrate on the sport that holds the key to his athletic future. That means he is sure to hit the ground running when Walker opens its basketball season Saturday against Bonnabel in the St. Augustine tournament.

"I went with the one I love the most, the one I feel like doing the most when I wake up in the morning," Cook said of choosing to pursue basketball. "The one I have a passion for."

There were times when the 6-foot Cook believed he may spend his college years tracking deep balls as a receiver or defensive back.

He was considered one of the state's top 20 prospects after enjoying a junior season in which he accounted for more than 600 receiving yards. He made one-handed grabs. He was a terror in the Walker return game.

But soon after committing to LSU basketball over the summer, Cook sat down with his parents, Eric and Lydia Cook, and told them his heart was with hoops.

Eric Cook wondered how Jalen's decision would be received by the Walker community.

He was pleasantly surprised.

"Everybody was able to see what was in front of him and that he deserved the opportunity to do what he wanted to do with his career," Eric Cook said. "That let me know the community is really standing behind him."

Jalen Cook spent fall Friday nights watching his former teammates play Louisiana's favorite pastime as a spectator in the student section.

Much of his other time was spent in the gym working to hone his basketball skills.

"It's my senior season, so I want to go out with a bang," Cook said. "It's going to be a big season."

One more season with Cook running the offense isn't the only big reason the Wildcats should be considered a candidate to repeat as District 4-5A champs and make another run at the state tournament.

Junior forward Brian Thomas was set to rejoin Cook & Co. when Walker's football season came to an end.

Thomas, a top two-sport college prospect in his own right, averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds last year after winning title-game MVP honors as a freshman.

The other three starters from last year are gone, but coach Anthony Schiro is excited about young players like sophomore Donald Brown and freshman Warren Young Jr.

Being away from football has allowed Cook to take on more of a leadership role with his teammates during preseason workouts.

"I tell him, 'You helped lay the foundation for the success we've had,'" Schiro said. "'Now you can leave a legacy with the younger players by teaching them the things you've done.'"

Cook enters his senior season as the No. 2 prospect in the state behind Scotlandville's Reece Beekman, according to 247Sports.

In June, he attended the prestigious NBPA Top 100 camp in Virginia. In August, he headed west to participate in Steph Curry's SC30 Select Camp.

The Walker star may always wonder what might have been had he not stepped away from football as a senior.

But, he said, he won't ever wonder if it was the right decision.

"I don't regret it, but I do miss it," Cook said of football. "I had to do what is best for me and my future."

Scott Hotard covers sports for The Livingston-Tangipahoa Advocate. He can be contacted at shotard44@gmail.com or livingston@theadvocate.com.