North Gwinnett grad and Oakland Raiders tight end Jared Cook was fully committed to continuing his football career after high school, but he might have had an equally transcendent basketball career, had that been his choice.
The photograph used to promote North Gwinnett’s 10th Jared Cook Classic shows him dunking a basketball, something he did often during games, according to his former head coach Len Garner.
“If you see the picture of him they use every year, it’s with him dunking — that was it,” the former coach said. “That was his contribution. He was a heck of a player.”
Cook was part of a North Gwinnett team that advanced to the Elite 8 but lost to a South Gwinnett squad that featured future NBA Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams. Cook went off to play football at South Carolina. Williams was the 45th overall pick in the NBA draft.
The showcase was originally a tournament called the Powerade Classic, but the tournament lost sponsorship when Powerade backed out. That’s when Garner, the father of current North Gwinnett coach Matt Garner, approached Cook to inquire whether he’d be interested in giving back. Cook’s request was to make the tournament about raising funds for breast cancer research — Cook’s mother is a breast cancer survivor — and Garner graciously accepted.
A few signed footballs by Cook and some Tennessee Titans teammates were auctioned and the Jared Cook Classic was official.
“It’s grown tremendously,” Len Garner said. “Eventually the classic rolled over to a showcase instead of just a tournament. It has really gotten huge and thanks to (former North coach and Dacula AD) Zach Smith and Matt and the teams they’ve been able to get in there. A lot of times, scheduling is tough because teams need one or two games, so it’s easier when it’s a showcase.”
Since taking over as head coach for the 2015-16 season, Matt Garner has kept up the competitive slate that makes the Jared Cook Classic an early-season destination for some of the state’s top teams.
This year’s showcase features more than the 10 Gwinnett County teams involved, though the county features a large share of the pool of talent — last year’s Class AAAAAAA semifinalist Grayson, Class AAAAA state runner-up Miller Grove and Class AAA defending state champions Greater Atlanta Christian and Meadowcreek.
“Jared and I have been boys since our high school days, and I’m thankful that he continues to support the program that I now have the fortunate opportunity to lead,” Matt Garner said. “We have had so many state championship teams compete at the event over the last several years, with Hall of Fame coaches, and major Division I talent. It’s been great watching the event grow into one of the premier ones in the state each year.
“On top of all the great basketball talent we get to see over the three days of the event, we get to raise money, and awareness, for Komen Atlanta. Over the last nine years, we have raised almost $20,000 for the organization in honor of Jared’s mom, Yulinda, who is a breast cancer survivor.”
This year’s tournament begins with games on Saturday and rolls over to Monday and Tuesday with a full night of five games from 2:55 p.m. until the end of the final tipoff at 9:15 p.m.
10th Annual Jared Cook Classic
At North Gwinnett High School
2:55 p.m. — Archer vs. Lanier
4:30 p.m. — Milton vs. Mill Creek
6:05 p.m. — North Gwinnett vs. Etowah
7:40 pm. — GAC vs. Peachtree Ridge
2:55 p.m. — Milton vs. Lithonia
4:30 p.m. — Douglas Co. vs. Archer
6:05 p.m. — North Gwinnett vs. West Forsyth
7:40 p.m. — Lambert vs. Peachtree Ridge
9:15 p.m. — Shiloh vs. Mill Creek
2:55 p.m. — Lithonia vs. Cedar Shoals
4:30 p.m. — Mt. Bethel vs. Miller Grove
6:05 p.m. — North Gwinnett vs. Milton
7:40 p.m. — Dacula vs. Meadowcreek
9:15 p.m. — Peachtree Ridge vs. Grayson