WSU's Mariah Cooks: Here comes the judge

PULLMAN -- No one ever had to tell Mariah Cooks to do her homework. On the court, just like in the classroom, where she's preparing herself for law school, the Cougar junior forward is all nose-to-grindstone. While a steady presence the last two seasons, this is her first in WSU's starting lineup and she's answered the bell with the same heart and hard work that has defined her academically.

WSU head coach June Daugherty says the 6-1 Cooks devours game film and peppers the coaching staff with questions looking for their insights.

"She likes to get with the coaches and really dissect it through the coaches' eyes," says Daugherty.

"As a player I was this way too. You feel like, 'I'm doing things pretty good, I look pretty good out there,' but then when you sit down with the coach, it's like, 'Yeah, but you could do this a lot better.' I think she likes that challenge of sitting down with the coaching staff and saying, 'How do you guys see it?'"

Cooks' stats aren't head turning, though her work this past Saturday against Cal certainly was notable as she posted her first career double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

Of course, on a team with great guards and multi-dimensional Shalie Dheensaw locked in at one post position, Cooks' don't need to be eye popping. But, like Cooks herself, they are workmanlike and productive: an average of 18.1 minutes, 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

But that only tells part of the story. She brings a tough, aggressive attitude into the post with her.

That's part of the reason why Daugherty offered Cooks a scholarship coming out of Ernest Righetti High in Santa Maria, Calif., when no other Pac-12 schools did.

Despite stellar numbers and a league MVP trophy, major-conference schools were concerned by her height.Even at 6-1, Cooks is not big by Pac-12 post standards. But Daugherty thought Cooks could make up for her lack of size with her physical strength, ball skills and attitude.

The result is that she's played in every game since coming to Pullman in 2012. She averaged 6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore and 5.7 points and 3.5 rebounds as a freshman. And this season she's started every game.

"She wants to be great, and so she knows that it's not going to be easy," Daugherty says.

The coach recalls Cooks saying during the recruiting process that the staff would never need to question her work ethic, and that she would come to Washington State and prove the other schools wrong.

Cooks was so excited about the idea of coming to Washington State that she committed before ever setting foot on campus.

THE FACT COOKS IS SO INTERESTED in picking the brains of her coaches -- and the fact she plans to become a lawyer -- is no surprise to her father, Adrian Cooks. As a five-year-old girl, his daughter was an "active listener," never satisfied with one answer to anything. That habit of questioning everything has never left her, he says.

Adrian remembers when Cooks was 10-years-old and talking with her great-grandmother about how she was handling some health problems.

After all the questioning, great-grandma, in an inviting southern accent, started calling Cooks "Lawyer." The way Cooks responded shocked her dad. Mariah saying she didn't want to be a lawyer, but rather, she wanted to be the boss of the lawyers. She wanted to be a judge.

"She's very open-minded, she loves people, she's an old soul. She's one of those kids that, you could have 100 people in a room, she'll just stand out," Adrian said. "She loves everyone, she's non-judgmental, very spiritual, loves God, but also understands that nobody's perfect. That's why I think she would be a very good judge."

To that end, Cooks has sought out advice from former WSU wide receiver Kristoff Williams, a senior who already has been accepted into a number of law schools, including Georgetown and California. Watching Williams go through the process of preparing for the LSAT helped Cooks realize its rigors, and the steps she now must take to realize her dream.

After graduating from WSU in 2016, Cooks said she plans to play basketball overseas and then return to the states for law school. She wants to specialize in environmental issues and then progress to become a judge.

"I knew I wanted to help people and help the world, but I didn't know how I was going to do that being an attorney because they get such a bad rep," Cooks said. "I found that, through environmental law, I'm able to do both of those things."

Based on Cooks' work ethic and her effort to seek her coaches' opinions about her performance in basketball, Daugherty said Cooks is on the right track.

"I've always just worked really hard. I was never like a brainiac or the smartest, but I've always just worked so hard. I really take it upon myself," Cooks said. "My parents never had to tell me to do my homework. I've always just done it myself, and it's definitely paid off. I just have to study more and work harder and that's how I get my good grades."

NOTABLE:
  • Cooks' dad Adrian played football at Fresno State and her uncle, Carlos Adams, played football at Kansas State.
  • As a high school senior, Cooks was named league and county MVP after averaging 21.7 points and 12 rebounds per game. She also lettered three years in volleyball as a middle blocker.
  • The Cougars are in action tonight when they take on No. 9 Oregon State in Corvallis at 6 p.m., and on Sunday when they travel to Eugene to face Oregon at 1 p.m. Both games will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

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