Cook Out For Season

After 48 straight starts, Mike Cook's career with the Pitt men's basketball team has ended.

Mike Cook, a fifth-year senior small forward, tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial and lateral menisci in his left knee late in the Panthers stunning 65-64 overtime win against Duke Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Since he played in 11 games this season, a medical redshirt is unlikely, but the Pittsburgh coaches will try to secure one for him.

"We are thoroughly heartbroken for Mike,'' Pitt Head Coach Jamie Dixon said. "Over the last three years, Mike has contributed significantly to our success both on and off the floor. When I asked Mike why he wanted to come to the University of Pittsburgh, he simply said he 'wanted to win'.

"And he has won, going 40-8 as a starter. He has grown into a leader, has become an outstanding example for the younger players in our program and we will continue to count on his leadership throughout the year.''

Cook, who sustained the injury during a drive to the hoop 32 seconds into overtime, will undergo knee surgery sometime within the next 7-14 days at UPMC South Side hospital. The surgery will repair the injuries in his left knee and will be performed by Team Physician Dr. Freddie Fu and Assistant Team Physician Dr. Robin West M.D.

Pitt (11-0), however, will attempt to replace him in a few days. The Panthers return from holiday break late Christmas Day. It looks like senior Keith Benjamin and redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown are the top candidates.

"Keith and Gilbert have to step up,'' junior forward Sam Young said. "One of them will be the new starter on the team. They have big shoes to fill. As a team, we have confidence in those two.''

Cook's backup had been Brown, who played well in a limited role through the first 11 games. He is averaging 4.8 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.

Benjamin is averaging 5.9 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. Benjamin has starting experience at small forward. He became the starter there late during his freshman season and has played there periodically throughout his career.

"We have to step up as a whole,'' junior point guard Levance Fields said. "Keith is a senior. He's not new to this if the opportunity presents itself for him to be in the starting lineup. He'll be ready.

"Gil gave us some good minutes [against Duke]. He did a great job on defense, moving his feet and helping. He'll help us. And the so-called stars on the team are going to have to play even better.''

Another player who figures to get back into the rotation because of Cook's injury is freshman guard Bradley Wanamaker, who has not played since the Duquesne game Dec. 4. With Benjamin likely playing small forward and shooting guard, Wanamaker could get some minutes at shooting guard, which is his natural position. Wanamaker had been playing mostly point guard through the first two months of the season.

In his second year as Pitt's starting small forward, Cook averaged 10.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game and has reached double figure scoring in seven of Pitt's 11 games this year. Over his four-year collegiate career, Cook scored 1,204 points, grabbed 362 rebounds and dished out 293 assists in 103 career games and 87 starts.

A Philadelphia native, Cook transferred to Pitt following the 2004-05 season where he attended East Carolina. In two seasons at East Carolina, Cook registered 41 double figure scoring games, led the Pirates in scoring as a sophomore (15.0 points per game) and earned Conference USA All-Freshman Team honors. Cook will graduate from Pitt in the spring with a degree in communications.

It is the second season-ending injury for Pitt in the past two weeks. Redshirt freshman forward Austin Wallace fractured the patella in his left knee in practice Dec. 7. It was the day before Pitt played at Washington.

The No. 11 Panthers, who most assuredly will move into the top 10 after beating No. 6 Duke, gets back into action at Dayton Saturday. Tipoff is at 8 p.m., and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN2.

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