Fresh faces dominate first day of NAZ Suns training camp, media day
NBA G League
Updated as of Monday, October 22, 2018 9:57 PM
Cooke, Jok return looking to lead Suns in 2018-19
PRESCOTT VALLEY — With several fresh faces not only within the player ranks but on the coaching staff meeting each other for the first time on media day, the Northern Arizona Suns began training camp Monday just getting to know each other.
Paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork was the highlight of the afternoon for the players. Not to mention photo shoots, video shoots, ad spots, and stopping by the media table for interviews. Monday’s media day for the Suns felt more like an assembly line at a factory than the beginning of a basketball season.
Welcome to life in the NBA G League, where daily changes are expected, and new friends become old friends before the All-Star break.
The 2018-19 Suns season is the third in Prescott Valley, and Monday’s media day offered at least one constant: A fresh start for all involved.
Derek Cooke Jr., an original Suns player, makes his return to Prescott Valley this season and is over the moon excited.
“I couldn’t be more excited. We have a great coaching staff coming in, guys coming back that looked great from last year, and guys that I know personally,” Cooke said. “It’s going to be a great season, I think.”
Cooke appeared in all 50 games during the inaugural 2016-17 season in Prescott Valley, averaging 7.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He spent last season playing for the Perth Wildcats of the National Basketball League.
“I had some offers overseas, and different places,” Cooke said about this season. “But I think, me and Brett (Burchard) had a few talks, and me and Dylan (DeBusk), we had some talks, and we thought I could make a better market for myself if I come back and have a better year than I had the last time I was in the G League numbers wise.”
Peter Jok also returns this season, playing in 27 games a year ago, but admitted Suns fans have yet to see the real “Peter Jok” and what he’s about as a player.
“I’m here to get as wins as I can, and trying to be the best player that I can be. That’s why I came back this year, because of coach Brett (Burchard), we’ve been working out all summer, working on my weaknesses,” Jok said. “I feel like he’s going to put me in the right position to be successful and I’m ready for whatever is to come. I’m going to do whatever it takes for the team to win.”
Jok, a native of Sudan, played collegiately at Iowa, but managed only 12 minutes per game for the Suns a year ago and spent much of the season battling injury.
First-year head coach Brett Burchard said both Cooke and Jok are focused on the season.
“Both those guys are ready and intent on having really good years and taking the next step in their careers,” Burchard said.
As for the rest of his club? Burchard said he likes what he sees.
“We drafted some young talent. I like our group, it’s a diverse set of skills. We don’t have two guys that are just alike,” Burchard said.
Suns interim General Manager Dylan DeBusk quickly agreed with his coach.
“We have a diverse group of players, diverse group of skillsets that we think will help us. We have a lot of players on this roster that we think can be contributors in this league, and maybe potentially in the NBA,” DeBusk said, adding the turnover at this level is normal for any team in the G League.
“I think last year was a unique situation with how many returners we had. At especially at the guard position,” DeBusk said, adding later, “It’s a little bit different this year.”
One of those fresh faces is Aaron Epps, a 6-foot-10, 215-pound center out of LSU who the Suns selected with the No. 6 overall pick in Saturday’s NBA G League Draft.
“It’s been great, I’ve been working every day, I’m just blessed,” Epps said after meeting the local media for the first time, adding that he hopes to grow not only as a player, but a person. He’s also ecstatic to land with the Suns.
“I wasn’t sure,” Epps said about where he thought he’d get drafted. “But I definitely knew this would be a great fit for me (playing for Suns) and once I got the call I was definitely happy.”
DeBusk expects to see how things play out in camp before deciding on how much of an impact Epps will make this season.
“We’re looking forward to him contributing for sure. He can stretch the floor at that four and five spot, which is something we need in our offense,” DeBusk said. “He’ll help rebounding wise, he’s athletic and can run the court. He fits the modern NBA.”
With the season opener at the Prescott Valley Event Center against the Santa Cruz Warriors just 12 days away, Northern Arizona has a little less than a week to prepare for a scrimmage against the South Bay Lakers at noon Saturday, Oct. 27.
A final roster is due to the league’s front office Friday, Nov. 2, and the opener is Nov. 3 in Prescott Valley.
Brian M. Bergner Jr. is news/sports editor for The Daily Courier of Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and SoundCloud at @TheEditorDesk. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.