Amid a closely fought finals series between the Sydney King’s and New Zealand Breaker’s, the NBL’s best player and reigning finals MVP has secured a deal to join the Washington Wizards in the NBA. Xavier Cooks, 27, will make his final outings with the Kings in the NBL championship series next week before heading state-side. For Cooks, his rise to the NBA is the result of years of hard work.
Cooks has been a revelation since joining the Kings in 2019. The combo forward initially found his place as a role player but has since worked his way up the ranks to become the star of the team. Winning last year’s NBL championship and Grand Final MVP award (with a solid chance of going back-to-back with both accolades next week), Cooks has established himself as the best player in the NBL.
Averaging 15 points and eight rebounds per game while leading the Kings to a league-best 19-9 record. It’s no surprise that Cooks has ended up on NBA team’s radars. And while the Kings are happy to see the 27-year-old succeed, it’s going to be a big loss for the team. “It is difficult to properly articulate the impact X has had on this club. His talent, leadership and innate desire to win completely shifted our trajectory these past four seasons. It is obvious that he is an NBA talent and belongs among the best players in the world.” Kings CEO Chris Pongrass said in a statement.
While he’s now reaching the pinnacle of the sport, four years ago, Cooks was the mystery man of Australian basketball. Fresh out of college and still finding his place in the world of the professional leagues, Cooks had a chance to make the Australian team for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. And he was prepared to grab it with both hands. “I just tapped into the mindset that I’m here for a reason,” Cooks told ESPN. “People can see some potential in me.”
At the Boomer’s infamously gruelling selection camp, Cooks was pitted against Australia’s golden generation of basketballers. Facing the likes of Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut and Joe Ingles for a coveted spot on the final 12-man roster. Not deterred by the star power surrounding him, Cooks managed to leave his mark. “I think it was the very first day I went there and realised these guys are really, really good,” he said. “But I can get to that level. Eventually.”
Cooks was the surprise selection in the Boomers team as a then relatively unknown 24 year old. But on the cusp of a career-changing feat, bad luck struck. A knee injury derailed what could have been a turning point for him. Delaying his dream of representing his country and showcasing his skills to the rest of the world.
After missing out on the world cup, Cooks went back to the drawing board. He’d spent four years playing college basketball for Winthrop University in the US and was his conference’s player of the year in 2018. But his college performances weren’t enough to win over NBA scouts as he went undrafted in the 2018 NBA draft. He had talent and he had options, just not in the NBA.
Eventually, Cooks signed with German team s.Oliver Wurzburg, where he spent the next two seasons. He originally signed with French side SIG Strasbourg for the 2019-20 season, but an injury meant he didn’t play a game for the team. Finally, Cooks settled on returning home to Australia and signed with the Kings at the end of 2019.
During his time with the Kings, Cooks has flourished. He’s stood out for his innate defensive prowess and ability to guard every position on the court. He’s also become a masterful interior scorer, dominant rebounder and has elevated his offensive play style to include playmaking abilities, averaging four assists per game this season.
Cooks will join the Wizards as they gear up for a playoff push down the home stretch of their season. The team currently has a 31-34 record and sits at 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Two games clear of their nearest competitors for the final play-in spot. Cooks will join nine other Australian’s currently playing in the NBA. And his story is further evidence that NBL has quickly become a solid pathway to the NBA for young talents and seasoned veterans alike.