Basketball forward Stephen Cook ’17 has always looked up to college basketball players. Now that he is filling such a role himself, he is working to give back.
On Feb. 7, 2017, Allstate Insurance Company, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association named Stephen Cook ’17, as well as 19 other men and women, to the 2017 Allstate NABC and WBCA Good Works Teams. This nomination honors players who make a positive, lasting impact on the world outside of basketball.
Cook, who first got involved in community service in his hometown of Chicago, didn’t expect to be given the award.
“It was actually kind of a complete surprise,” Cook said. “I didn't actually know I was being nominated for the award.” He added that receiving this honor encourages him to continue being involved in service projects.
“It means a lot to know that people have noticed the kind of work you’re doing and it motivates me more to keep doing this kind of service in the future,” he said.
Bradley Harwood, assistant account executive of public relations company Taylor, which represents the organization from which Cook’s award came, said Cook was nominated in recognition of his commitment to service. Harwood noted that Cook’s fundraising efforts for the Gidel Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Nuba Mountain region in Sudan were particularly impressive, raising about 20,000 dollars. The Gidel Mother of Mercy Hospital is the only hospital serving the region’s population of about a million people, and it cares for those hurt in the violence of the civil war between North and South Sudan, as well as people suffering from quotidien illnesses and injuries.
After Cook’s friend Jack DiMattio sent him an article from The New York Times about the hospital, Cook said he felt like he needed to find a way to help.
“There’s basically this one doctor serving a population of about a million people. When I heard about this, me and my friend [DiMattio] got together and decided we needed to do something about this,” Cook said. “We reached out to all of our friends and family members and asked them to contribute and people got really into it.”
“It was pretty cool to have that sort of impact,” he said.
Aside from his fundraising efforts, Cook has also volunteered with the Heartland Alliance, one of the largest nonprofit anti-poverty organizations in the Midwest, which provides housing, healthcare, job skills training, job counseling, and refugee resettlement support for those in need.
On campus, Cook and the rest of the basketball team take trips to elementary schools to read to local students through a program called “Reading with the Tigers." They also play basketball with kids at nearby YMCAs. Cook praised his team for their involvement in the community.
“I know my team in particular is really into that kind of stuff,” Cook said. “We work together and kind of bounce ideas off each other. It’s really fun when you can do those sort of service projects with guys you spend a lot of time with and guys you’re really close with. I think that sort of culture and environment on a team definitely encourages service.”
Cook said that, like basketball, service has played a role in his life since a young age.
“When you’re in a position like [being a college basketball player] I feel like you have a responsibility to give back in some sense, and when you attend a place like Princeton I feel like you have a responsibility to give back in some way,” Cook explained. “I think I’ll continue that as I continue to play basketball overseas. I’m not exactly sure in what capacity that’ll take form, but I know I'll definitely find something to do.”
Cook said that he plans not to end his service efforts at the University or at home, even after he leaves.
“When I’m back home in Chicago I'll definitely continue helping out with Heartland Alliance or the Greater Chicago Food Depository,” Cook said.
Cook’s academic interests reflect his commitment to service as well; in fact, Cook notes that his favorite class at the University so far has been social entrepreneurship.
“That was a really cool class because I learned a lot about how nonprofits, or even for-profit companies with social causes in their core values, were formed and the people and faces behind those companies and what inspired them, like how they got to where they are today,” Cook said. “I also got to develop my own company idea too, which was pretty cool.” He added that though he initially plans to continue playing basketball after graduation, he will stay involved in service in his personal life and perhaps find a career in the nonprofit sector later.
Head basketball coach Mitch Henderson ‘98 did not respond to request for comment. Assistant Coach Brett Macconnell was also unavailable for comment.