|Monday, July 14
Updated: July 18, 8:58 PM ET
Itinerant prep star gets second chance at nemesis
ESPN.com news services
Both were can't-miss high school phenoms, except one did miss. Now, Lenny Cooke gets another shot.
Cooke, a member of the Boston Celtics summer league entry in the Reebok Pro League, faces LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, two years after he was shut down by James in a high-profile matchup at the ABCD summer camp. That performance helped propel James to national stardom and was a precursor to the downward spiral that swallowed Cooke -- one that ended with his going undrafted in 2002.
Despite the easy angle of hyping the prep stars' rematch, Cooke is downplaying the individual matchup.
"This is an opportunity to showcase myself," Cooke told the New York Daily News. "I'm not looking at it as me going against LeBron James. It's me against Cleveland."
Cooke has been itinerant since the 2002 NBA draft. An unsuccessful stint with the Seattle SuperSonics preceded time in the CBA and the NBA's development league. Cooke, however, revived his career this spring -- he was rookie of the year with the USBL's Brooklyn Kings, which led to the invitation to join the Celtics' summer league entry.
Cooke, who had little organized basketball experience after attending five different high schools before skipping college to enter the draft, seems eager to make the most of this latest opportunity.
"I have not played a lot of organized ball, so I have to learn," Cooke told the Daily News. "As time goes on, it gets easier. Whatever happens, this has been a good spot for me."
For Boston, James' presence means more than a matchup against Cooke. It is triggering much larger crowds and related security hassles.
According to Sunday's Boston Globe, a 20 percent increase in attendance is expected at the week-long Reebok Pro League, with more than 40,000 spectators watching the action from UMass-Boston's Clark Athletic Center.
"The way that we bring the players in and out will be a little bit different this year, their entrance and exit from the building," UMass-Boston athletic director Charlie Titus told the Globe. "We're certainly going to secure the locker room area differently than we have in the past. Hopefully, with the event management firm that the Celtics are bringing in, we'll be able to do a much better job of keeping the crowds separate from the kids while they're in the court area."
In previous years, players mingled more with the crowds, often signing autographs outside the locker rooms and mingling with fans after games. That won't be happening this year. Fans are, however, are still welcome to join in the basketball-related activities outside the gym, according to the newspaper.
Despite the promise of James missing some of the competition due to attending ESPN's ESPY Awards on Wednesday in Los Angeles, he still is the week's big draw.
"LeBron certainly is an attraction to many of the media and the fans," said John Brody, the Celtics' executive vice president of marketing and sales. "We will certainly be watching a bit more closely because of the level of media attention. We're working closely with the Cavaliers and all the other nine teams to make sure that everybody has a safe experience."