Zia Cooke had no Twitter account and few Instagram followers last December when she began her senior season at Rogers High School in Ohio.
That was, fortunately for her social media clout, until video clips from her 43-point performance against East Kentwood (Michigan) went viral. The Euro-step up-and-under finished with a swished jumper in the lane, the crossover that made a defender in front of her fly several feet back — 290 thousand people saw it all.
“I had been crossing people up and getting nice layups, but nobody ever saw it because it wasn’t on tape. It was never recorded,” Cooke said. “So for that to be recorded, it showed me, ‘Wow, I am kind of good. Wow, people really are watching me.’”
Not just any people.
“Oh she’s cold,” Dwyane Wade tweeted with a link to the video.
“She nice nice,” Blazers’ star guard CJ McCollum wrote.
“Swaaaaaaag,” long-time NBA player Jason Terry posted.
John Wall and Chance The Rapper also chimed in.
Six months later, Cooke has taken her talents to South Carolina, where she’s out to recreate that viral magic with her electric skill set.
Cooke was the No. 7 overall recruit in the 2019 class and the No. 2 point guard, according to ESPN. She’s a two-time high school state champion and won a pair of international gold medals with USA Basketball at the 2017 FIBA U16 Americas Cup and the 2017 U17 World Cup.
“Zia [joins] our program with a full toolbox and an eagerness to make an immediate impact on both sides of the ball,” Gamecock head coach Dawn Staley said in a release. “She is an electrifying lead guard that can score with confidence and put our team in a position to win.
“She is the perfect balance of both her parents who modeled strength, hard work and confidence. She is a fighter and a competitor who Gamecock Nation will be excited to watch.”
While the viral clips portray her in the mold of Wade, McCollum and Terry, Cooke points to two other players she models her game after.
“I see myself being like an Asia Durr, Kelsey Mitchell,” she said, referring to the two dynamic WNBA scorers and former college stars. “… I can see myself being like one of them two. I look up to them a lot. They play like boys, you know? I’ve listened to some stories about them. And they’ve played with boys. Their stories are not too different from mine.
“Both of their dads are in their life. My dad is in my life. He helped me develop as a player. … I just like girls that aren’t normal. I feel like I’m not normal.”
Cooke has been billed as someone who can compete right away with Ty Harris and Destanni Henderson for minutes in the Gamecock backcourt.
“Zia is that very quick point guard who can get past you,” said fellow South Carolina freshman Brea Beal, who played in the same starting lineup as Cooke at the McDonald’s All-American Game this past season.
Added Gamecock freshman forward Aliyah Boston, who was also in that starting lineup, “Zia can be a point guard, Zia can be on the wing and Zia can shoot it.”
“On the court, it’s grind time,” Cooke said.
Cooke said she chose South Carolina because it felt like home and that Staley was always real and honest with her throughout the recruiting process.
“We built a very close relationship,” Cooke said. “And not just coach Staley. With all the coaches. We all got close with each other. That’s what led me here.”
Like Staley, Cooke enjoys fashion, especially when it comes to sneakers. The day Cooke committed to South Carolina, she wore an “exclusive” multi-colored pair of Gucci shoes with black straps and what looked like red light-up gems.
“My mom, she’s into fashion,” Cooke said. “And my dad is. So I’ve got a lot of different drips to me, you know? And that’s another thing. Coach Staley, she’s got some drip too, so I pay attention to that.”
In other words, Cooke has a diverse fashion sense.
Like Beal before her, Cooke mentioned how coming to South Carolina — with its star-studded recruiting class and already-deep roster — will ease her transition to college ball.
She called in a “relief” that she can come in and be surrounded by other great players who can score. She mentioned how she’ll be able to distribute more and trust the players around her.
“We have the talent to get it done,” she said. “We just have to work hard in order for it to happen.”
And Cooke has goals.
“Going to the final four every year and winning the national championship,” she said. “That’s what you come to college for, you know? And just getting better as a player. I have bigger goals. I want to get a national championship and sooner or later I want to go to the WNBA.
“And develop as a person. I want to become a better person and be whatever I can for the team.”
If all that happens, Cooke should see another dramatic spike in social media followers.
This time, though, it won’t come as any surprise.