Daquan Cook can stop playing make-believe.
Tonight, the 6-foot-1-inch freshman guard from Baltimore participates in a real college game for the first time when the No. 20 Rebels meet Division III La Verne at Orleans Arena.
“I’m ready to go,” said Cook, who sat out the first eight games of the season. “I feel great, and whatever they need me to do, I’ll do.”
Cook initially was going to redshirt this year. So he used practice as his games, going hard against senior Anthony Marshall as a member of the scout team and trying to get Marshall and the other starters as prepared as possible.
But coach Dave Rice reconsidered his earlier decision and told Cook to plan on playing. He wouldn’t promise how much or how often. But Cook took it as great news.
“Nobody likes to sit,” said Cook, who started throughout high school, first at Baltimore’s Digital Harbor High and then at St. Frances Academy his senior year. “But I’ve been going along with the program, and it wasn’t disappointing at all.”
Rice said his concern over a lack of depth at point guard ultimately led to his decision to give Cook the green light.
“He was in a tough spot, but I thought Daquan handled things great,” Rice said. “Everyone wants to play; I’d be disappointed if he was satisfied just sitting. But we thought now was the time to get him into the rotation.”
Tonight’s nonconference game against the 1-4 Leopards is an ideal situation for Cook to debut. He’ll have a chance to boost his confidence and show the coaching staff he’s ready to assume more responsibility.
“Watching from the bench, you can learn a lot,” he said. “I watch how Anthony attacks the other team’s guards, and I take mental notes and try to apply those same things in practice.
“I knew moving up to college I’d have to think the game more. But I’ve really learned a lot about the way the game is played at this level. You’ve got to play smart and take care of the ball. Those are the things I’ve been working on in practice.”
Cook also has had a sympathetic teammate in Roscoe Smith, a fellow Baltimorean who is redshirting this season after transferring from Connecticut. Together, they have been heading up the scout team in practice, and they didn’t treat those sessions as a time to goof around.
“Roscoe and I help each other. We keep each other’s spirits up,” Cook said. “He knew what I was going through, and he’s been great. When we scrimmage, that’s our game, and we treat it like it’s for real.”
Cook gets to experience the real thing tonight, and the fact his collegiate odometer will just start turning over wasn’t lost on him.
“I’m much stronger than when I got here,” he said. “My body’s not beat up. So I’m ready.”
He also was willing to sit and wait if necessary. He’s just glad he won’t have to.
“I was ready to accept whatever came,” he said. “But I’m glad I can get out there and help the team.”
■ NOTES – Tonight’s game was not part of UNLV’s season-ticket package, and all tickets are $10. The Rebels are 8-0 in the series with La Verne, which dates to 1960. With junior forward Mike Moser out with a dislocated right elbow, senior Quintrell Thomas will start in his place and play center. Freshman Anthony Bennett will move to the power forward spot. This is the sixth straight year the Rebels have played a “home” game at Orleans Arena while the National Finals Rodeo occupies the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV is 4-1 with wins over Fresno State, Western Michigan, Boise State and Cal State San Marcos. The loss came to Kansas State in 2009.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.LA VERNE VS. No. 20 UNLV
WHEN: 7 p.m. today
WHERE: Orleans Arena
TV/RADIO: KTUD-TV (14), KWWN (1100 AM, 98.9 FM)