'I know what I'm capable of': Xavier Cooks ready to unlock full potential with Kings

Attempting to inbound the ball during the third quarter of the Sydney Kings' November 18 NBL Blitz game against the New Zealand Breakers, Xavier Cooks decided to take matters into his own hands.

With Jaylen Adams doubled, Cooks threw the ball off the back of a defender and took it coast-to-coast, dishing to Jarell Martin who missed his shot attempt off glass, leaving Cooks to throw it down for the one-hand put back slam.

It was a 10-second glimpse into what one of the forgotten stars of Aussie hoops can bring to the table and why head coach Chase Buford and the Kings are so excited about the prospects of the 26-year-old this season.

"Xav has really worked his way into shape and is starting to dominate some of our scrimmages," Buford told ESPN.

"The way he can do so many different things defensively, guard the ball, guard the rim, making plays from the weak side, all those things he's fantastic at. Offensively he's really gained a lot of confidence in driving the ball and making plays as a facilitator on offence. I think he'll be huge for us on both sides of the ball."

Cooks tipped off his season with 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks in the Round 1 win over Melbourne United, in what he hopes will be the beginning of a breakout year after an injury interrupted pair of partial seasons in Sydney.

"It's been frustrating. This is my third year at the Kings, and I've probably played 20 games," Cooks told ESPN. "I'm just looking forward to having a healthy season and looking forward to showing the league and showing the world what I'm capable of."

In and out of the line-up during his Kings stint, finding a comfort level on the roster has been a challenge, with continuity the key ingredient to potential success.

"Even when I've come back, I've just found a role on the team, making a defensive play or a rebound but not really playing to my potential so I'm excited to show everyone I'm capable of," Cooks said.

"It's been a lot of trial and error, and a lot of error. The main thing is staying positive through the hard times. Bad things happen to good people all the time. At the end of the day, it's just a foot injury or a knee injury, it's not the end of the world."

Like most professional athletes struggling with health concerns, Cooks admits he isn't immune to the frustration and impatience that comes with setbacks. After impressing with S.Oliver Würzburg in Germany during 2018-19, he was on the verge of a solidified role in the Boomers' 2019 FIBA World Cup campaign before a knee injury sidelined him for the tournament.

"That was my struggle with the first year I played here. I had never really played in Australia, and no one really knew who I was," Cooks said.

"I was coming off making the Australian Boomers team, so everyone had really high expectations. I came out trying to prove to everyone what I was capable of. I'm the type of guy who thrives on making everyone else better around me, not just scoring points [or] just winning games.

"I believe in my ability. I had a good college career; I had a good year in Germany before I was injured. I know what I'm capable of."

Plays like the one against New Zealand are highlight reel material, but could become commonplace, with Buford very much in line with the modern-day philosophy of playing with freedom and maximising the potential of position-less basketball.

"We try not to focus on who is a guard, who is a big. We just want to run to space and play fast and have everybody DHO and screen and roll and handle it. Xav is someone who can do both sides of that equation very, very well," Buford said.

Cooks, who can slide across multiple positions, defending on the perimeter and the block, is excited by the opportunity to play on instinct, unlocking his versatility and athleticism on both ends.

"My first meeting Chase I asked what position I was going to play and he said, 'you're going to play basketball'. That's what I'm really good at, I can bring the ball up if I have to, I can guard the five man, I can adapt to what I need to do."

That first interaction with Buford set the tone for what is an open line of communication between the players and coaches in Sydney.

"Your coach is your boss, you have bad days where you are going to hate the coach, and some where you will love him. He does a great job of building a friendship with every single player. If someone you don't like yells at you, you can take it as a 'f--- you' kind of thing, whereas if you like them you take it constructively," Cooks explained.

"The main thing I like is his style of play, he's a really fun coach to play for. He gives the players a lot of freedom, we play with pace and a lot of it is position-less basketball."

On paper, the Kings shape up as one of the deepest rosters in the league, with the battle for minutes on in earnest as the team looks to build chemistry in the opening rounds.

"It's been super competitive at practice, a lot of chippiness but to be honest I love that," Cooks said. "I love the competitiveness; I love people trying their hardest. I'd rather play with a bunch of guys that want to try hard and compete than a bunch of prima-donnas who just want to shoot the ball and that kind of stuff."

More than anything, Cooks just wants to stay on the court, with an injury free run well overdue, and an NBL championship the carrot fuelling the Kings' NBL22 run.

"At first it might be a little tough but once we dial in and get rolling, we're going to be tough to stop," he said. "We're so long, we're so athletic, we're so versatile that it's going to be hard for teams to matchup with us. I think we have real potential to win it this year."