Before Maryland had played a game, a certain personality was helping bring together a team that has nine new faces.
Freshman guard Gia Cooke, who had previously committed to Texas A&M, found herself with her hometown Terps due to a coaching change with the Aggies. But don’t let that fool you into thinking College Park is not where she wants to be.
“These girls are like my sisters, my best friends really. I just try to have a good time and we don’t ever really have a bad time,” Cooke said.
Those were some of the ways her teammates described her.
Fellow freshman Bri McDaniel, who lives next door to Cooke, called her the “funniest player on the team,” a message that has echoed throughout the locker room.
“I just like to have fun forever. So like, when [my teammates] hear me, and a lot of them are older too, they’re just always laughing. We’re just having a good time and sometimes I’m just the source of that,” Cooke added.
It’s unusual for a freshman to take an immediate role off the court on a team of veterans, but that’s just been “Gigi’s” way of life since she was a little girl, according to her mother Dani.
“Gia’s never been afraid to put her nose out there, but whatever situation she’s in she will always be your biggest supporter,” Dani said. “She’ll support all of her teammates and that’s because of her competitive spirit and fearlessness.”
The season has been one of growth and improvement for Cooke, whose limitless energy has sometimes forced some erratic plays. But her speed and energy is never questioned.
Head coach Brenda Frese has complimented Cooke’s ability to “provide a spark” off the bench, and while that’s unfamiliar territory for Cooke, she has no problem being able to provide her teammates a lift in limited minutes.
“The transition to college has been a good one because I always like to play fast and I think that college is a fast pace game and I think I keep up with it,” Cooke said. “I’m still learning the ropes of being a point guard. I just like leading my team.”
The No. 52 recruit in the 2022 class is averaging just under 11 minutes a game on the short season, and her mother has reminded her to stick to her game.
“Well, I’ve talked with her and sometimes she just needs to take a deep breath and pace herself,” Dani added. “She feels that energy and excitement every time she gets on the floor and she just wants to please, you know, she wants to please everybody.”
Cooke loves to put on a show, which gives some insight into why she was given the nickname of “Hollywood” by teammates and coaches in her early playing days.
Frank Oliver Jr., her high school coach at Bishop McNamara, said that if there’s one player he’s ever coached that shines in the spotlight, it’s Cooke.
“The brighter the lights, the more she embraces it ... Not many people can be silly and goofy off the court and then turn it on when it’s game time in the biggest moments,” Oliver said.
Oliver says Maryland fans should be excited for whats to come with Cooke, as her play will excite the fan base.
“If you’re in a dogfight, you definitely want to have her on your team because she’s not going to back down,” Oliver said. “And she’s never gonna give up, every, you know, she’s gonna use every ounce of her personality and energy to help the team.”
Fans have only seen glimpses of Cooke’s explosiveness this season, with fellow guards Shyanne Sellers and Elisa Pinzan bringing it up the court for the Terps most of the year.
When she has played, her speed and tenacity on both ends of the court have featured.
While the stats aren’t where Cooke wants them to be — she is averaging just under four points per game — she will never complain or not uplift her teammates.
“Right now with my role it’s just like building trust with my teammates and coaches,” Cooke said. “So when I do get in and play, I just want to give 110% and provide that energy difference.”
That’s what you’re guaranteed to get with Gia Cooke every game. A spark plug in every sense of the word, she has shown flashes of her ability just nine games into her freshman year.
“You’ve gotta learn how to love life. I always liked this goal of making people smile when they’re down. I think everybody needs that person to crack a joke sometimes and I’m really goofy,” Cooke said with a smirk.
Cooke is always smiling, and that smile rubs off on anyone she interacts with.
“She’s special. She’s different. And she’ll always be making an impact”, Oliver said.