"He's an exceptional talent. It's probably the exact piece, from our club point of view, that we're missing."
Illawarra Hawks general manager Mat Campbell has been left frustrated after rivals Sydney Kings swooped in to sign Xavier Cooks on Wednesday afternoon.
Cooks, a Wollongong junior and son of Hawks assistant coach Eric Cooks, joins the Kings for the remainder of the 2019-20 season on a multi-year deal after being released by French team SIG Strasbourg.
Campbell told the Mercury that the 24-year-old had been doing rehabilitation at the Hawks and had trained with his team for the last "six or seven weeks".
"We were really hopeful he'd play for us," he said.
"We were talking with Xavier's management on trying to secure him to come to the Hawks, being a local junior, coming through our program with the Hawks and being the son of assistant coach Eric Cooks. We were obviously really keen to get him if he could get out of that contract in France.
"Obviously, from our club point of view, we're disappointed. Not only is it a great story... but he would have been a great fit with our group. He knew all our stuff, he still knows all our stuff going up to the Kings."
Campbell said he believed Cooks was an "NBA level player."
"He's totally an all-round talent," he said.
"I think he's got all of the attributes to be an NBA guy, he's got good size - around about six foot, eight - he handles the ball really well but he's got a real knack for the game. He's got a good instinct, like his dad did as far as finding the ball rebounding wise, timing, shot blocking, and he's really improved his three point shooting over the last 18 months to two years.
"He's really become quite a versatile player and that's the reason he made his way into the Boomers squad. From all accounts, he was going to start in that Boomers team. He's an exceptional talent. It's probably the exact piece, from our club point of view, that we're missing. He's got the athletic ability, he handles the ball well and can switch and play multiple positions."
The Hawks are yet to replace their injured import Aaron Brooks, who tore his Achilles during a game against Perth last month.
Campbell said the Hawks had been close to signing two imports in recent weeks which "fell over right at the real pointy end".
"It was even to the point of booking flights for one of them," he said.
"It's [missing out on Cooks] just added to a list of people we've been trying to get to replace Aaron Brooks and would fit with the group, and being conscious of the chemistry with the group. Not bringing in the wrong person as other teams have this year.
"We're talking with three or four others currently, and we have been the whole process. This process of finding an import takes months and months normally in the off season to find the right fit. And once you find the right fit, it's about trying to get to an agreement with them. Some of the other guys have been higher calibre than to who we've ever spoken to before. It's also about trying to attract them to a league they know a little bit about this year - with all the attention we've got. But we are still are, from a league point of view, little bit away from the dollars that [teams in] Europe and China pay.
"There are only a certain amount of high calibre players available and we're trying to attract them to us."
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