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Why Sidney Cooks' Home Was The Place To Be For College Coaches

Sidney Cooks, a 6-foot-4 junior forward at St. Joseph Catholic Academy (Kenosha, Wisconsin), is the No. 9 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2017 class. Courtesy Jacob Steinmetz

When University of Minnesota coaches came to her home in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Sidney Cooks scooched up to the family piano and played "My Heart Will Go On" from "Titanic." The Golden Gophers coaches jumped right in and sang along.

When Penn State visited, Cooks channeled her inner Beyonce and played "Halo." The Nittany Lions coaches gave her a standing ovation.

During a 13-day span in September, coaches from 11 different colleges visited Cooks, a 6-foot-4 junior forward at St. Joseph Catholic Academy and the No. 9 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2017 class.

"I was excited," said the 17-year-old Cooks, who plans to narrow her college list this spring and make a decision by the start of her senior year. "It was the first time we got to do home visits. I have been talking on the phone to these coaches since the seventh grade. Now it was time to get personal."

The busy schedule was rough on Cooks and her parents, Sonya and Jimmie, who had to rush home from school and work every day to make sure their home was just right for their guests.

"For two weeks, our house was probably the most immaculate it has ever been," Sonya said.

Besides Minnesota and Penn State, coaches from UCLA, Florida, Marquette, Maryland, Michign, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Purdue and Wisconsin also visited. (Only Minnesota and Penn State got the impromptu piano concerts.)

With every visit, the Cooks made sure to have kringles -- the official pastry of Wisconsin -- at the ready.

"We all gained weight," Sonya said. "We're to the point now where we don't even want to look at kringles."

Friends forever

Cooks, who has always been the tallest girl in her class, has been playing basketball since kindergarten, when she walked into a gym and was spotted by coach Lynell Collins.

"I thought she was older than what she was because she was so tall," Collins said. "I asked her if she played basketball, and she said no. I was just teaching my daughter [Niara] at the time."

Niara Collins and Cooks are now teammates at St. Joseph, and Lynell Collins is their coach. He got the job four years ago, one season before his daughter and Cooks arrived.

The three other starters on the St. Joseph team -- seniors Jalah Harris, Jacori Witt and Star Keene -- also were part of that first rec-league team that Collins put together nearly a dozen years ago.

"It's an awesome experience to coach a player of Sidney's talent," Collins said of Cooks, who averaged 14 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks last season, making honorable mention all-state as a sophomore. "She's 6-4, but she has the skill set and mindset of a guard."

Cooks got interested in the game thanks to her only sibling, Sheldon, who is 6-7 and 21 years old. He recently completed a basketball career that lasted through junior college.

When she was 5, Cooks started going to Sheldon's games, offering unsolicited advice.

"I would yell, 'Make your layups!' " Cooks said. "I would tell him, 'Box out' even though I probably didn't fully know what boxing out meant."

Eventually, Cooks decided it was time to stop yelling at her brother and start learning.

In February, she joined the Chicago-based Midwest Elite AAU team. Cooks fit right in even though almost all the girls she was playing with and against were two years older.

"She's special," Midwest Elite coach Ralph Gesualdo said. "She has the ability to play at the highest level, not just in AAU but in college."

Gesualdo said Cooks averaged 12 points, 12 rebounds and 4.5 assists while playing against outstanding competition.

"She has post moves, but she can also face the basket and is pretty proficient at shooting the 3," Gesualdo said. "Sid is one of those bigs that when she grabs a rebound you are not afraid to have her lead the fast break. You can also put her in the corner to shoot a 3. And she's a triple threat in the high post because she can shoot, pass or take you off the dribble."

The mask

The only problem with Cooks is that she seems to be a magnet for swinging elbows.

Her mother jokes that the AAU season doesn't officially begin until Cooks gets her face bloodied. Sonya estimates it has happened 10 times, most recently during an AAU tournament in Ames, Iowa, this past summer.

This time, Cooks "yelped out louder than I had ever heard her before," said Sonya, who accompanied her to the bathroom, where they got her some bandages to stop the bleeding before Cooks went back in the game.

But the next morning, when she had two black eyes and a swollen face, Cooks went to the hospital, where she was told she had broken her nose.

Cooks went back home while her mother called every sporting goods store she could find, searching for a mask that would protect Sidney's nose while she played.

They finally found a mom-and-pop store in Milwaukee that had a mask, but it wasn't exactly a thing of beauty.

"It was the ugliest thing you ever saw," Sonya said.

Worse than the aesthetics was the fact that the mask gave Cooks a headache and robbed her of peripheral vision.

A teammate who lives in Milwaukee picked up the mask, and Cooks only got it 45 minutes before her first game, so she had to adjust on the fly.

"One of my teammates would throw me the ball, and my hands would go in different directions," Cooks said. "It was as if I were looking into a mirror and seeing double."

By the next tournament, Cooks had found a better mask online.

She's money

Cooks, who is averaging 23.3 points and 14.0 rebounds through her first four games as a junior, is interested in studying criminology in college and also likes her high school anatomy class. She has dissected cats "and that hasn't grossed me out," she said, perhaps because her mom is a nurse, she reasons.

Cooks has an outgoing personality. Harris, one of her teammates, said that when she and Cooks played AAU ball together, they would put money in their pockets because they were convinced it was good luck.

"When we'd run up and down the court, you could hear the money shaking," Harris said.

Cooks also keeps her sense of humor when it comes to her second-favorite sport, softball, which she still plays.

She's a good defensive first baseman -- it's tough to overthrow her because of her height, and she can virtually do a split to stretch out for a low throw.

Hitting, though, has become harder as the size of her strike zone has grown. And her pitching career never took off.

"In the fourth grade, I begged my coach to let me pitch," Cooks said. "On my first pitch, I threw it over the fence. It was embarrassing.

"I was like, 'Never mind. I'm done with pitching!' "

Likewise, Cooks gave up piano lessons after taking them for five years so she could focus on basketball.

Even so, she has no problem striking the right note with college coaches far and wide.