The enthusiasm seemed infectious as Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor flashed a wide smile and gushed endlessly about possibly wearing a Lakers uniform.
But the platitudes went beyond Okafor paying his respects to a storied franchise or expressing gratitude for working out for an NBA lottery team. Duke senior guard Quinn Cook saw Okafor’s affection for the Lakers up close after rooming together last season with the Blue Devils. Then, Cook said he “forced” Okafor to watch plenty of games on television featuring the purple and gold.
“He’s a Laker and knows a lot about the Lakers,” Quinn said of Okafor after working out with the Lakers on Monday at their practice facility in El Segundo. “He’s ready to go. Hopefully he falls to No. 2.”
Cook argued, “If I had the No. 1 pick, I would take Jahlil,” before praising his role in helping Duke win a national championship with his post presence, passing and jump-shooting. But Cook has no influence on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office. Instead, he jokingly praised his influence in Okafor falling in love with the Lakers and deciding to train in Santa Barbara between draft workouts.
“I take all the credit for that,” Cook said. “Him, his father and his aunt, I’m right there for his love for the Lakers. He’s ready.”
Jack of all trades
The Lakers worked out Cook, Michigan State senior guard Travis Trice, VCU senior forward Treveon Graham, UTEP sophomore forward Vince Hunter, Michigan State senior forward Branden Dawson and Iowa senior forward Aaron White on Tuesday, all candidates they could consider with their 27th and 34th picks.
The Lakers currently do not have workouts planned for any prospects for the No. 2 pick, but will host workouts on Friday for more candidates at the 27th and 34th slots.
Well before they worked out with the Lakers, Trice and Dawson had often met with Lakers legend Magic Johnson. He has often visited the Spartans’ campus, practice facility and games after leading them to a national championship his sophomore season in 1979.
“He always told us to play relentless,” Dawson said. “He’s been great and has been pushing us throughout the tournament and Final Four. He’s a great guy.”
The Spartans heard that message so often that Trice lost count of how many times Johnson visited.
“His main thing was playing hard and playing smart and playing for your guys besides you,” Trice said. “You saw there were times in the game when the other team was arguing and we knew that’s when we had them. It stuck together.”
Cook described himself feeling “in heaven” working out for the Lakers, both because of the team’s championship history and his idol, Kobe Bryant.
“I just remember him struggling at first,” Cook said of Bryant when he entered the NBA straight out of high school in 1996. “He came into the league and it was his show and he had to work playing with Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones. Then he took over with Shaq, winning three, going through a rough patch and then winning two more. It’s a winning tradition.”
Cook knew Bryant’s career trajectory fairly well, partly because of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached the Lakers star with the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball teams in Beijing (2008) and London (2012). Krzyzewski also set up a visit between Cook and Bryant last year in Miami.
“He knew how much I loved Kobe and how much I really loved the Lakers. I always joked with him that he should have taken the job back then,” Cook said of Krzyzewski, whom the Lakers pursued following Phil Jackson’s first departure in 2004. “But me and him have a great relationship. He has always shown me messages between him and Kobe.”