Page 31 - NMHBASummer2019
P. 31

                                  But it was basketball, which Donny consid- ered his “weakest” sport, that would ultimately become his strong suit. He played on the Sandia junior varsity team his sophomore year, didn’t play his junior year and wasn’t planning on playing his senior year.
A coaching change at Sandia High School changed everything. Keith Griffith, a former New Mexico Lobo player, was named head coach at Sandia prior to Donny’s senior year.
In a meeting with the players he was inheriting, one of them told Griffith, “the best player in school isn’t even on the team.”
That was Donny, only 6-foot tall but with enough leaping ability that he could touch the backboard 11 inches above the rim.
“They said, `he can dunk it with two hands,”’ said Griffith. “I thought, I’ve got to see this.”
Griffith got his first look at Donny during a pickup game that summer. Sure enough, this white guy could jump.
“He went right up and dunked it,” says Griffith. “He was legitimate, the real deal.”
Griffith didn’t have any problem recruit- ing Donny. Donny had grown up a fan of the UNM team and quickly bought into the idea of playing for a former Lobo.
Donny averaged more than 16 points a game his senior year but cracked a bone in his right foot during practice midway through the season. He had scored 24 points in back-to- back games prior to being injured.
“He was out for maybe five weeks and was never the same because he was playing in pain,” said Griffith. “He was just a great athlete. He’s one of those guys you wish you could have had for a couple of years.”
A year later, Cook was enrolled at UNM and with encouragement from Griffith and Lobo assistant coach Pat King, walked onto the Lobo freshman team. The season before, most
of the black players on the Lobo squad quit the team in a dispute with then coach Norm Ellenberger and the coaching staff wasn’t sure how the recruiting of new players would go.
“They were going to need practice bodies,” says Cook. “I was basically going to be a practice body. They didn’t know how the following (1976- 77) season was going to go. It turned out to be the best recruiting class New Mexico ever had.”
The new recruits included guards Michael Cooper and Billy Reed, forwards Marvin Johnson and Willie Howard, center Wil Smiley and guard Mark Felix.
The summer before the 1976-77 season, Cook joined Cooper and other recruits in a pickup game in The Pit. It was August, before the start of official practices.
Cook and Cooper were paired on oppo- site teams.
Donny played basketball for the University of New Mexico during the 1976-77 season. During his senior year of high school in 1975, he was awarded as the Player of the Week by the Albuquerque Tribune.
“I was the very first guy to guard Michael Cooper in The Pit,” recalls Donny with con- siderable pride. “When he came down the (Pit) ramp, he was wearing cut off jeans and nobody knew who he was.”
At 6-foot compared to Cooper’s 6-foot-5 frame, Donny was physically overmatched. And it didn’t take long for Donny to realize that Cooper was a dynamite player.
“He shot it over me and it wasn’t that he made it, it’s how the ball went in the net. It hardly touched the twine,” says Cook. “I knew then I was out of my league.”
Cook played a few games as a member of the Lobos’ JV team that season but re-injured the same foot he hurt in high school and his basketball career was over.
The Lobos had a 19-11 record in the 1976- 77 season. The following year, Cooper, Johnson
      SUMMER 2019 29

   29   30   31   32   33