PHILADELPHIA, PA – Lenny Cooke wowed folks with his on-court gifts when he averaged 25 points, 10 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks in his junior year at Northern Valley High School in Old Tappan, NJ in 2001.
Heralded as a manchild during his high school career, the NBA and college hoops were interested and the scouts had the Brooklyn, NY product ranked ahead of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
After declaring for the 2002 NBA Draft and subsequently going undrafted, Cooke fell on hard times. He faced realities of bad decisions, poor counsel, the effects of hangers on and a car accident that could have left him for dead. After seeing his peers from high school make it to the next level, as well as a Joakim Noah produced documentary released in 2013 on his journey, Cooke decided that he needed to tell his story his way through mentoring kids.
Speaking to communities since April, Cooke’s latest appearance led him to Philadelphia’s Mount Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church on Friday July 15. He was the church’s vacation bible school commencement speaker.
In a room filled with parents, young adults and church parishioners, Cooke spoke on a panel moderated by the church’s preacher in residence, Rev. Andre L. Price and Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson, host of Brown and Scoop on CBS Radio’s Play.it.
While on the panel, Cooke, 34, addressed his mistakes and discussed how he could have done things differently. He also discussed his decision to declare for the 2002 NBA Draft instead of attending St. John’s University, his connection to hoops maven Sonny Vaccaro, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James at the now defunct ABCD Camp. Many believe that Cooke’s life changed in high school when he went head to head with LeBron James at ABCD’s high school basketball tournament. In the closing seconds of a game, Cooke’s team had the lead and possession of the basketball. James stole the ball, scored on a fast break and won the game. That play introduced the world to the Akron, Ohio baller who was later featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the cover titled, ‘The Chosen One.’
“My kids like LeBron James now,” joked Cooke. “He’s earned everything he’s gotten and taken advantage of every opportunity he’s been given. How can I be mad at him? He built his brand the right way!”
Cooke also shared with the Philadelphia crowd that the 76ers were one of his biggest suitors during the NBA Draft process. He also admitted that not showing up for team workouts hindered his draft stock and he admits that his arrogance were some of the many reasons that teams were put off by him. Cooke was adamant about the new crop of talent entering the sports workforce. He emphasized that knowing what they’re getting into is the key to having a successful career, something he now knows and he advises parent and coaches t o keep a close watch.
“Just keep positive energy with your child,” Cooke said. “Keep them out of the way of all of the negativity that you can. Focus on other things than just basketball with them. Because at the end of the day, you’re going to spend more time off the court than on the court. I try to tell kids: ‘what do you want after basketball?’ I’m still learning that.”
Cooke’s been rehabilitating his life and career. He spoke at Microsoft in Manhattan in the spring about his life and according to Cooke, he’s enrolled in college and will begin this fall. He’ll also be competing in the Duffy’s Hope celebrity basketball weekend August 5-6 in Wilmington, Delaware.