Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD -

Cook knows he beat the odds by go­ing to U.Va. and se­cur­ing a bright fu­ture.

So far this year, eight peo­ple have been killed, and more than a dozen oth­ers have been shot in Mosby, a neigh­bor­hood of roughly 2,000 peo­ple just up the hill from the city jail in the East End.

The cul­ture of vi­o­lence and crime that pulls in so many of Mosby’s young men never got Cook.

Not that it didn’t try. Cook said crime in Mosby swal­lows young­sters be­fore they even know what’s hap­pened. Danger­ous and il­le­gal as it may be, no pro­fes­sion in the neigh­bor­hood pro­vides more tempt­ing, tan­gi­ble in­cen­tives than the drug game.

Want a new video game sys­tem? It’s the drug deal­ers who can give it to you.

Who’s driv­ing the nice cars around the neigh­bor­hood? It’s of­ten the same peo­ple be­hind those wheels.

“Kids in the neigh­bor­hood, they wanted that life,” Cook said. “I was one of those kids. I wanted that life­style.”

But Cook got a peek around the cor­ner, the chance to see life out­side of his neigh­bor­hood. It came play­ing AAU Am­a­teur Ath­letic Union bas­ket­ball. Trips around the state and the re­gion opened his eyes. The big Cadil­lac and the fat stack at the dice game weren’t the apex of what life could of­fer him.

There was more out there for Mal­colm Cook.

The men­tors in his life showed him there was more. He grew up with­out know­ing his fa­ther, but his mother, Joyce Lewis, took him on a city bus to see sport­ing events around the city.

His god­fa­ther, his AAU bas­ket­ball coach and his high school coaches all helped steer him to­ward where he needed to go.

“They showed me that outer life, what can be,” Cook said. “Not just the ev­ery­day life of Mosby Court — dope deal­ing, gam­bling and shoot­ing dice, all that. As a kid, we were into that. That’s all we’d seen. We’d seen my un­cles on the back porches shoot­ing dice and gam­bling.”

Cook was al­ready blos­som­ing into an ex­cep­tional ath­lete when Robert John­son no­ticed him play­ing recre­ation league bas­ket­ball in Mosby. He urged him to join his trav­el­ing AAU team.

“A lot of times, AAU gets a bad rap,” said John­son, now an as­sis­tant bas­ket­ball coach at Vir­ginia Union Univer­sity. “I just wanted to take him out of his en­vi­ron­ment and in­tro­duce him to a big­ger world. My main thing wasn’t win­ning tournaments. It was just ex­pos­ing young men to a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment and a bet­ter way.”

With John­son’s team, Cook played in tournaments in Vir­ginia, Mary­land, Ten­nessee, South Carolina and Florida.

“My mom al­ways put it in my head that you can be dif­fer­ent,” Cook said. “You don’t have to be like ev­ery­body else. Be­cause ev­ery­body around me was dy­ing. Get­ting out of Mosby, you saw bet­ter and you wanted that.”

In 10th grade, Cook saw what he wanted.

A shut-down de­fender on the bas­ket­ball court, he had be­gun to emerge as a force on the foot­ball field.

For­mer U.Va. de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jim Reid, who han­dled re­cruit­ing in Rich­mond for the Cava­liers and then­head coach Mike London, in­vited him to visit the school and at­tend a game.

Char­lottesville was just 80 miles from home, but it was worlds away from Mosby Court.

Cook saw the white pil­lars and the green lawns. Young peo­ple hus­tling in a dif­fer­ent way— hur­ry­ing be­tween classes with books in their arms, not shoot­ing dice and drink­ing. He saw the crowd an ACC foot­ball game draws, heard the cheers.

Mor­gan Moses and An­thony Harris, two Rich­mon­darea guys play­ing for the Cava­liers, en­cour­aged him— he could get there, too.

“I made up my mind from that point for­ward,” Cook said. “This is what I want.”

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