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August 6, 2008Pittsburgh guard Mike Cook has reason to be the most anxious player in college basketball.
Cook is one of a handful of players waiting to hear from the NCAA about possible medical redshirts. Some of the bigger names on that list include Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf and Auburn center Korvotney Barber.
But Cook has more at stake. His case could mean the difference between playing in the Final Four and never playing a college game again.
If Cook is granted another year of eligibility, he'll join a talent-laden team that would have legitimate national-title hopes. With or without Cook, the Panthers probably will be ranked in the preseason top five. If he is denied, he probably will be playing overseas somewhere next year.
Cook was a senior last season when he tore the ACL in his left knee in Pitt's 65-64 win over Duke on Dec. 20. Two years ago, the NCAA raised the maximum amount of a team's games a player applying for a medical redshirt can participate in from 20 percent to 30 percent. Cook comes in just above the new barrier.
The Duke game was the 11th of 37 games for Pitt in 2007-08, which would put Cook at 29.7 percent. However, the NCAA does not count NCAA Tournament games and counts only one conference tournament game. Pitt played four conference tournament games and two NCAA tourney contests, meaning Cook played in 11 of 32 games, or 34.3 percent.
Cook doesn't sound nervous about the impending decision.
"Actually, I'm not even worried about playing next year," he said. "I'm focused on getting my knee better. I want to get completely healthy first. I'm not even thinking about the redshirt."
Cook has yet to be given clearance to play basketball again. Doctors are schedule to make that determination Aug. 25. He has been rehabbing the knee mostly through weightlifting and running.
Cook's outlook may have to do with the apparent delays in his case. Pitt was expecting a final resolution more than a month ago, then again two weeks ago.
"I never got my hopes up," Cook said. "I figure the longer the (NCAA) takes, the better. That means they really are thinking about it."
That Cook redshirted when he transferred from East Carolina three years ago may complicate matters. Another season would be his sixth in college.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has been reminding Cook to stay patient throughout the summer.
"Obviously, we'd love to have Mike back for a sixth year," Dixon said. "He is already an important part of our team and would give us another experienced player. Over his three years at Pitt, Mike has grown into a leader and is an outstanding example for the younger players in our program. All we can do is wait for a decision."
Dixon wants Cook back for good reason. The Panthers' biggest loss is 3-point specialist Ronald Ramon. Cook - who is more of a slasher - can't shoot like Ramon, but he could replace the 8.5 points a game Ramon averaged last season. Cook averaged 10.5 points two seasons ago and was putting up 10.4 per game when he suffered the knee injury.
Cook would join a lineup that already includes one of the top trios in college basketball in senior point guard Levance Fields, senior forward Sam Young (MVP of the 2008 Big East Tournament) and sophomore center DeJuan Blair (the co-Big East Rookie of the Year last season). Those three combined to average 41.6 points last season.
Cook may not be thinking about the possible redshirt, but he can't help but think of how good that group could be with himself added to the picture.
"We could be really good," Cook said. "Four returning starters would be a plus for any team, but it would be a big plus for us. I'd be really surprised if we didn't go to the Final Four."
Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.