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College

Pitt forward Cook out for season

| Saturday, Dec. 22, 2007

What appeared obvious when Mike Cook crumpled to the floor at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night became official Friday.

Cook, a senior, will miss the rest of the 2007-08 season following a left knee injury suffered in the opening minute of overtime in the Panthers' 65-64 win over No. 6 Duke.

Tests in Pittsburgh revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament as well as a torn medial meniscus and lateral meniscus, the thick, rubbery crescent-shaped cartilage that rests between the thigh bone and the shin bone.

The Philadelphia native will undergo surgery in the next two weeks, before facing a nine- to 12-month rehabilitation process.

"There is definitely a feeling of sadness for Mike," coach Jamie Dixon said. "There is no question, he is a leader on our team and for our program. It hurts, but at the same time, as we did last night, the best thing for Mike would be for those guys to rally around him. That's what we did (against Duke) and that's what we will do for the rest of the season."

It is likely Cook's basketball career at Pitt is over. The Panthers athletic department could request a medical redshirt from the NCAA, but that would involve Cook receiving a sixth year of eligibility (he sat out 2005-06 following a transfer from East Carolina) after already playing 11 games this season.

Replacing Cook will be redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown and senior Keith Benjamin. All indications are Brown, who was Cook's back-up, will start.

Benjamin, who has been subbing for Ronald Ramon at shooting guard, will continue to come off the bench, getting more minutes at small forward.

No. 11 Pitt (11-0) is off for the holidays before returning to practice on Christmas night. The Panthers' next game is Dec. 29 at Dayton (9-1).

"Keith and Gilbert will have to pick up the slack," forward Sam Young said. "They have big shoes to fill. As a team, we have confidence in those two."

Cook's injury also means freshman guard Brad Wanamaker will see more action. Wanamaker's playing time had decreased dramatically in recent weeks, down to only nine minutes combined in the past five games. He didn't play against Washington, Oklahoma State or Duke.

Young also could even see some minutes at small forward, a position he played for parts of his sophomore season.

"(Benjamin) is not new to this," Fields said. "He will be ready. Gilbert will be ready."

Cook flew home with his teammates from New York on Friday morning. He was joined by his parents in Pittsburgh.

Point guard Levance Fields, whose 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds to play in overtime gave Pitt the victory over Duke (10-1), vowed to pick up for his injured best friend. Fields spoke with junior forward Sam Young in a cramped hallway in the moments after Pitt's comeback win.

"We talked about how we've just got to step it up even more," Fields said. "The so-called stars on this team are going to have to play even better."

Cook, who had started 48 consecutive games at small forward, is the team's fourth-leading scorer at 10.4 points per game and ranks second in assists (29).

He scored more than 1,200 career points and is by far the most experienced player on the team. He has started 87 Division I games at Pitt and East Carolina. By comparison, Pitt's second-most experienced player, Fields, has 52 starts. Ronald Ramon has 44. No one else on the team has more than 16.

The injury tempered a win that ranks among the program's greatest non-conference triumphs. Pitt overcame a 34-22 halftime deficit -- matching the best comeback in Panthers history -- to win the first meeting between the two national powers in nearly 28 years.

Cook, who had spent many hours this summer working out with Fields to get ready for his senior season, was injured driving for a lay-up 32 seconds into overtime. He grabbed his left knee as he fell to the court, screaming in obvious pain.

"We knew it was bad," Dixon said. "When I went to him on the floor, his first words were, 'Coach, it popped.'"

Said Fields, "It brought tears to my eyes."

Cook received a loud ovation from the sold-out crowd of 19,544 while being helped off the court. Before that, as Cook lay writhing on the court being treated by Pitt trainer Tony Salesi, the Blue Devils fans began chanting, "Let's Go Duke." The outnumbered -- and outraged -- Pitt fans booed loudly and answered with "Show Some Class," silencing the Duke contingent.

Notes: DeJuan Blair said his intentional foul on Duke's Kyle Singler came when the 6-foot-7, 270-pound Blair tried to avoid falling on the tailbone he bruised five weeks ago. Blair had lost his balance positioning for a rebound. "I'm not a dirty player," he said. "I just didn't want to fall on my back, so I might as well grab him while I'm going down." ... Pitt is known for its balanced scoring, but that didn't happen against Duke. Fields (21), Young (17) and Blair (15) combined to score 53 of the Panthers' 65 points. The other five players who saw action -- Ramon, Cook, Benjamin, Brown and Tyrell Biggs -- went a combined 5 of 28 from the field, and 0 for 9 from 3-point range.

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