Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – With five of its top six scorers gone from last season Masen Miller knew there were people that looked at Regina and only saw the lost production.
When Miller looked at his teammates the Regals’ lone returning starter saw something else – potential.
“I knew our young guys had to grow up in order for us to be good and they have done a heck of a job,” Miller said. “Those guys have come up big.”\
None of those first-year contributors had more potential or have come up bigger than sophomore guard Ashton Cook.
In his first season as a starter Cook has emerged as dynamic weapon on both ends of the court helping eighth-ranked Regina (20-2) return to the state tournament for the first time since 2015.
Cook ranks second on the team in scoring (13.6) and rebounding (4.4) entering Monday’s Class 2A state quarterfinal against No. 5 Boyden-Hull (22-2) at 4:30 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“We lost a lot of seniors so we had to fill those spots in but I think we knew we were going to have a special group of guys that could make things happen,” Cook said. “That’s what we’ve done this season.”
Cook saw limited minutes last season as a freshman scoring 15 points, nine of which came in a district semifinal win over Monticello.
With players that accounted for better than 70 percent of Regina’s scoring no longer on the roster Cook was immediately saddled with a larger scoring responsibility this season.
It took some time but Cook has settled into that role nicely along side junior point guard Masen Miller.
“Last year as a freshman we had such a deep team and he was able to learn from the seniors and grew and developed,” Regina coach Jared Galpin said. “This year he had to take on a much more significant role with some roster turnover that we had and we needed him to score. It took some time for that to develop but he has slowly gotten better and better and better.”
Coming off a toe injury during football season Cook got off to a solid start to the season.
He scored in double figures twice and averaged 10.5 points as Regina opened the season 5-2.
“He started out coming off the toe injury from football so he was very limited all of November,” Galpin said. “He was trying to work himself back into basketball shape so it took until Christmas break to get to where we thought he was playing to what his potential is.”
As Cook began to put the injury behind him and get more comfortable on the court he has seen his production soar.
Cook has scored in double figures in 14 consecutive games entering the state tournament and is averaging 15 points during Regina’s current 15-game winning streak.
At 6-foot-4 Cook is a versatile scorer capable of creating matchup problems for opposing defenders.
Cook is shooting a team-best 57 percent from the field and is coming off his best game, a 21-point performance on 9-of-11 shooting in a substate win over Camanche.
“Every game he just continues to get better,” Galpin said. “Now he is getting a little more confidence in his perimeter shot, his ball handling has improved so at this point of the year he is playing some of his best basketball at the right time. His ceiling is incredibly high.”
For Cook the reasons for the success have been simple.
He is bigger and stronger than he was a year ago and perhaps most importantly he is smarter as a sophomore.
“I feel like I’ve gotten physically bigger and my basketball IQ has gone up from being around Masen and all the seniors,” Cook said. “I think I’ve got a better understanding of the game.”
There have been several moments this season that Galpin could see Cook emerging.
First there was a career-high 24-point performance against Durant in December then a 20-point effort in a hotly contested win over West Branch and a 14-10 double-double at West Branch in the rematch.
The moment that showed Galpin that Cook had arrived came against West Burlington.
With Regina clinging to a one-point lead with under six minutes to play Cook went baseline and threw down a one-handed dunk that brought the Regina bench to its feet.
“We run a close out drill and we’ve seen that multiple times in practice,” Galpin said. “We’ve seen him do it multiple times in practices and finally he just turned it loose in a game.”
Cook has continued to pick up steam as the games get bigger averaging 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in three postseason wins to help Regina reach the state tournament.
Cook’s older brother Drew was a senior when Regina last reached the state tournament, falling in the 2015 title game.
Ashton hopes to help Regina make another title run this season.
“My brother said it was something he’ll never forget,” Cook said. “He said it was even more cool than playing at the UNI Dome so I’m really looking forward to it.”
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