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Rookie forward from Illinois on injured list with broken pinkie
February 6, 2004
Mike Nadel

Hollywood definitely has not spoiled Brian Cook.

Yes, the former Illinois star now wears the garish purple and gold of the NBA's "Showtime" team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, the rookie forward lives in ritzy Marina del Rey, where rappers, actors and athletes reside in million-dollar estates. And yes, Cook shares a locker room with Shaq, Kobe, Mailman and the Glove.

But Brian is still Brian.

He's still the big, goofy kid from Lincoln, the kid with the expressive, brown eyes and the baby face that simply refuses to sprout a mustache (no matter how hard he tries).

He's still the same laid-back guy who talks low and slow, the same guy who loves fishin' and chillin' and hangin' out with Melissa, his high-school sweetheart.

"Fiance," he corrected.

"I'm not into that Hollywood stuff," Cook said earlier this week in Indianapolis, where the Lakers were visiting the Indiana Pacers. "I live the same life I lived when I was in college, man. There's some real good fishin' out there."

On Jan. 6, Brian scored 16 points against Minnesota. The next night, he had eight rebounds and four blocked shots against Denver. A few days later, he led the Lakers with 13 points in a victory over Cleveland. And in his first career start, Jan. 21, he burned Memphis for his first career double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds).

Then the pinkie went pop.

"A shame," Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen said. "Here's a kid who can score, and we need that. Here's a kid with some size, and we definitely need that."

The injury has frustrated Cook, but he is determined to turn it into a positive. The morning of the Pacers game, he was working on left-handed jump hooks; he even hit a couple over Shaq, who playfully shoved Brian out of the lane.

"I was starting to get in a groove, learning what NBA life is all about, playing every night. Now I've taken a step back," said Cook, who hopes to return in two weeks. "But I gotta work hard and stay in shape, work on the court and stay confident. You gotta be confident in your skills or they're just gonna tear you apart."

Grant said Cook needs to get stronger, but "he has the shot and he has the heart."

"They always say the first impression tells you a lot," Grant said. "Well, at one of the early practices, Karl knocked him down and Brian got right back up. I mean, he was being shoved around by arguably the best power forward ever, but Brian went right back after him. That showed me a lot."

This season, several of the guys he left behind talk often about much they miss their "big brother."

"I miss them, too," Cook said. "It was really kind of cool, to have people look up to me like that. That was my family, man, but life goes on. Now I come into 'The League' and I'm down at the bottom of the bunch."

He is who he is - the big, goofy kid from Lincoln - and he doesn't pretend to be anyone else. He is REAL, a rarity in pro sports, a true rarity in Hollywood.

Root for Brian Cook? It's impossible not to.

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