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.”