Feb. 3, 2012
Cooper and Bearcats look to clinch postseason berth
By David Boyce
During his senior year at Jennings High School in St. Louis, DeShaun Cooper made a drive with his dad, Noel Cooper, to Northwest Missouri State.
A couple of things were going through Cooper’s mind during the trip. As a 5-foot-7 point guard, he wanted to prove to Northwest coaches that he was big enough to play basketball at the NCAA Division II level.
“I feel every time I step on the court I have something to prove because I’ve been doubted all my life,” Cooper said. “I am a 5-7 point guard. People do not want to take a chance on me. I feel once I get a chance it is all I need to show people what I’m made of.”
Cooper also saw a lot of the Missouri countryside during the more than 3-hour drive from the big city.
“It was I’m not coming here. It looked like it was back deep somewhere,” Cooper said.
Impressions quickly changed for Cooper.
“Once I hit campus it was like sunshine,” he said. “It stood out to me so much. It felt comfortable. The nervous feeling that I had was gone once I arrived on campus.”
Cooper quickly made a great impression on new coach Ben McCollum. McCollum brought Cooper in thinking he might be good enough to walk-on or possibly earn some scholarship money.
Simply put, there was not a high demand for a guard who stood less than 5-10.
“He came in and just destroyed everyone,” McCollum said. “We offered him a scholarship right there. I am guessing his dad about 5 minutes into the trip home said you are coming here. He decided to come here and the rest is history.”
Three years later, it has turned into a remarkable story. Cooper is the leading scorer for a Northwest team battling Central Missouri for first place in the MIAA.
“It is all about winning and getting it done,” Cooper said. “It is not all about scoring. I feel if we are winning, we are happy.”
The team-first attitude permeates throughout the squad and is the main reason why the Bearcats head to Pittsburg State for a late afternoon game Saturday with a 16-3 overall record and 10-3 in the MIAA, just a ½ game behind Central Missouri, which is 11-3.
“There is no selfish play at all,” Cooper said. “We enjoy each other off the court. That is the most important thing. If you can enjoy each other off the court, just imagine on the court when you are playing. I try to make all my teammates as comfortable as possible out there. I try to loosen them up and joke around just like practice.
“It starts with the coach because he’s the one who recruited everybody and brought everybody together. When you have a coach like coach Mac who brings in good people, you feel this is your family and you know the team chemistry is there.”
The road to this successful season had a few pot holes. The Bearcats struggled to win half their games in Cooper’s first two seasons. Northwest failed to make the conference tournament the last three years.
Obviously, that is not a concern this season.
“As a freshman, it is always eye-opening, especially in his situation because we didn’t have a winning culture,” McCollum said. “He did not have the benefit of learning from a Scott Fleming or a Kelvin Parker. He had to learn on his own and the hard way.
“He has matured as far as his work ethic goes. He has an appreciation for everything he’s got and that makes him coachable on top of it.”
The route Cooper took to get to this point was the right one.
“I learned a different amount of things in life and on the court,” Cooper said. “I learned to be more in control with my speed on the court. I learned what it takes to be successful in life and what it takes to be successful.
“The first two years were tough, but it was a learning experience for me. I was new to the conference. I wasn’t used to losing. It made me hungrier even more.”
The Bearcats are not satisfied just because they are in position to get a top seed in the MIAA Tournament. They want to improve and keep on winning and see where that takes them.
“We have to play defense and crash the board which are the things we’ve focused on all season,” Cooper said.
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