ISU basketball transfers bond over shared experience during summer league


Jameel McKay sits in the stands during the game against UNC-Wilmington on Nov. 10, 2013.

Max Dible

Redshirt junior Jameel McKay and sophomore Hallice Cooke are different heights and different weights, play different positions and possess different skill sets, but the two have formed a valuable friendship over one commonality — they are both ISU transfers.

McKay came to Ames last season as a transfer from Marquette University, while Cooke joined Iowa State only weeks ago, choosing to leave the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis, Ore., in favor of the Cyclones.

“I wanted the opportunity to go somewhere and grow as a player and an individual,” Cooke said. “I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament and develop enough … to go to the NBA one day.”

A former transfer himself, McKay was able to offer guidance to Cooke. He developed a relationship with Cooke even before he picked Iowa State as his final destination.

“On his visit, I gave him some advice,” McKay said. “I told him [not to worry] especially with this program because the past players who have transferred here have all been successful, and the [transition] is a little easier.”

By random chance, the two ended up on the same summer league team via the Capital City League’s draft, which separates the ISU participants onto different teams to make the league more competitive.

Cooke said playing with McKay over the summer has been valuable to him as he settles into his new home and that their relationship will continue to be important moving forward.

“It is very helpful to have Jameel around. He talked to me on my visit and we have been texting back and forth, even since I was still at Oregon State,” Cooke said. “He is still giving me tips about how things are going to go and what to expect. I know at times [sitting out] will be tough but that is when I think Jameel will play a big role in helping me get past it.”

The frustration of sitting out a full year, particularly on such a successful team, has prepared McKay not only for the upcoming season, but also in his role as a mentor to Cooke.

“At times it was very difficult knowing that I could help the team out,” McKay said. “Other times it was actually pretty easy because the team accepted me as soon as I came in and I did not feel like I was sitting out because I felt like I was part of the team.”

The close-knit nature of the Cyclones, which helped McKay during his transition, was also mentioned by Cooke as one of the primary reasons Iowa State was his pick amidst numerous other interested schools.

“The environment, the comradery of the team and how everybody spends time together, how the guys talk so highly of Coach Hoiberg, it was all very impressive,” Cooke said. “The system and the way the guys play, the way my game fits in, it all fits. There are not selfish guys here, it is a team full of winners … and I wanted to get back to winning.”

Cooke said that taking a year off, while difficult, will help his game. McKay agreed, citing his own experience and how it increased his appreciation for the sport.

“Sitting out made me realize how much I really love basketball,” McKay said. “It gave me an appreciation for the game and pushed me to continue to work.”

That attitude is something McKay said he sees in Cooke and something he will continue to try to inspire in him during Cooke’s ineligible season.

McKay chalked that responsibility up to his role as he sees it in the upcoming year — as a leader on a team that lost two NBA-level talents in Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane to graduation.

“The main thing Coach always talks to me about is bringing leadership,” McKay said. “The void on the court with points and rebounds and assists [left by Ejim and Kane], we will be able to make up for that as a team. The main thing I want to be is a leader.”

Cooke said leadership is also a goal he has set for himself, even though he will be unable to play in the actual games.

“I learned a lot this past season and I plan on helping guys like [Clayton Custer] and also sharing some things with Monte [Morris], who is already a talented player, but just sharing what I know with him whether it is shooting technique or whatever,” Cooke said. “Coach Hoiberg talks about leadership and I think I am that guy who can be a leader.”

McKay said that despite sitting out last year, he had a great experience and is thrilled for the upcoming season to finally start.

“I am really excited,” McKay said. “I cannot wait to play.”

Cooke said he is determined to have the same type of productive year off as McKay did and that he shares McKay’s enthusiasm for the 2014-15 season, even though he is just beginning his year of ineligibility rather than ending it.

“I wake up excited each and every day to get up and work hard, because we are going to do something special,” Cooke said. “To have the opportunity to do that here is a blessing.”

In the meantime, Cooke is relishing his opportunity to play summer league with McKay and against the rest of his new teammates. That’ll have to tide Cooke over for the next year.

“This is really good for me, especially because I am going to be sitting out for a year,” Cooke said. “To get some games in and showcase my talents to the fans is fun. I enjoy coming to this and trying to put on a show with Jameel. I also enjoy competing and going against the guys I work out with every day.”

McKay and Cooke have a handful of summer league games left before the Capital City League ends on July 13. Beyond that, the two could rejoin forces in McKay’s final season in 2015-16.