Hallice Cooke’s transformation has been an ever-evolving one this season.
The Oregon State freshman point guard has gone from a first-year player trying to find his place to a team leader despite being one of the youngest in the group.
“I’m waiting for him to hit that freshman wall, but he’s working so hard he won’t let me see it,” coach Craig Robinson said earlier in the week. “When I think he’s exhausted, he’s at practice with the most energy of anybody.”
Cooke, from Union City, N.J., may have hit that proverbial wall in Thursday’s home win against Washington State, shooting 1 for 8 while playing a team-high 36 minutes.
Whether that was just a blip on the radar or something more could be revealed today, when the Beavers (14-11, 6-7 Pac-12) host Washington (14-13, 6-8) at 1 p.m. at Gill Coliseum.
Cooke started the season coming off the bench behind junior Challe Barton, who has been reduced to single-digit minutes and hasn’t played at all the last two games.
The 6-foot-3 Cooke took over the starting job Jan. 9 at home against Stanford, the third game of conference play.
He’s led the team in minutes the last five games while averaging 11.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and three assists.
Cooke is leading the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage at 50.7 percent. His turnovers are under two per game while playing nearly 31 minutes, which has also caught his coach’s attention.
“It’s my competitiveness and my effort on the floor, and also from the leadership capabilities I have,” Cooke said of the reasons he believes he’s seeing extended playing time.
Cooke is one of three OSU freshmen getting a chance to prove themselves in their first year.
Shooting guard Malcolm Duvivier, like Cooke, has also seen his role increase of late.
A Toronto product, Duvivier has played double-digit minutes in three consecutive games for the first time in Pac-12 play.
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Robinson related a player’s freshman year to taking a cost accounting class. It’s sometime between the midterm and the final when you finally figure out how everything reconciles, he said.
The coach said that “light bulb moment” happened for the 6-2 Duvivier in the last few weeks, leading to him playing a season-high 24 minutes in Sunday’s loss at Oregon.
Cooke is known to be among the team leaders in spending time in the gym on their own. He says Duvivier is there almost as much.
“Malcolm’s going to be a key part for this team down the stretch and for the future,” Cooke said, noting Duvivier’s defensive contributions.
Duvivier has kept his turnovers down as well, with just six in 129 conference minutes.
“He’s playing with a level of confidence that I can put him out there and not worry about him making a ridiculous freshman mistake,” Robinson said of Duvivier, who is averaging about 10 minutes in Pac-12 play. “Now if I put him out there it’s going to be a basketball mistake, not a freshman mistake.”
Freshman center Cheikh N’diaye has been slower to adjust to the college game, a process Robinson says is common for big men.
N’diaye, a 7-footer originally from Senegal, is behind three other posts in the rotation, which has limited his opportunities, along with some minor injuries.
N’diaye has played in 19 minutes in conference play and has seen the floor just once in the last nine contests.
“But I think ultimately, everyone’s going to be surprised at how good he’s going to be,” Robinson said. “I say this because he’s 7-feet tall, but I’ll be surprised if he’ll be here for the entire four years.”
N’diaye is credited with being a hard-working practice player who dives on the floor for loose balls and works on his game every day.
Robinson said N’diaye has handled his limited role well and knows he’s just one injury away from the team needing him in the middle.
“He’s helped us a lot and he’s going to be really good,” said junior forward Eric Moreland. “I joke around with him. I tell him, ‘sometimes you’re great and sometimes I don’t know.’”