One of the fastest rising names on the Midwest basketball circuit is Monroe (MI) forward Gary Cooper. The 6-foot-8 Cooper has been flying under the radar despite averaging 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds last a junior last year in a competitive basketball conference. But all that started to change when Cooper started playing his AAU ball this summer for Ernie Miller and the Ohio Gators. After a strong of impressive performances, Cooper began to draw some serious attention. Resident Rivals.com Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi had this to say after he saw Cooper in the Adidas May Classic held in Bloomington, Indiana:
One of the better finds of the day, Cooper is a good looking 6-foot-8 big man who can run the floor, is active on the glass and has soft hands. A fine athlete with broad shoulders, he's already got lean strength and a body to work with. He stepped out and hit a nice looking 17 foot jumper in a pick and pop situation as well. He looks to be at least an upper mid major level prospect and could likely get even higher looks in a 2011 class that is thin with big men.
Following his improvement on the hardwood, Cooper picked up offers from Central Michigan, Toledo and St. Bonaventure. But numerous other schools such as Xavier, Memphis, Cincinnati, Dayton, Butler, Notre Dame, Marquette, Ohio and Kent State are also after this hidden gem. With the Chippewas getting an early jump on Cooper, we caught up with his AAU coach Ernie Miller to get an idea about the type of player Cooper is becoming.
"He has a very high skill level," said Miller. "He's not the most athletic kid, he has good athleticism, but I definitely think his skill set is ahead of his athleticism. He has a knack for blocking shots and keeping them in bounds and he is very active on the boards, 8 out of 10 times he is going to come down with the rebound. He's a decent defender, but his weakness right now is his lateral foot speed and smaller guys can take him off the dribble."
But Miller was quick to point out that Cooper has a very high ceiling and is just scratching the surface of his potential.
"I've never had a big kid with the skill set he has to be honest with you," added Miller. "I've had some pretty talented big men go to Mid-Majors and he's better then they were. I just had a coach ask me to compare him to somebody, but I really don't know anyone to compare him to. I don't think he's quite at the level of someone like Jared Sullinger, now I think he has a chance to be that good, but I truthfully can't find a player to compare him to."
With so much talent and a seemingly improved game each and every time he plays, why has Cooper flown under the radar so much?
"Honestly, he has some academic issues. His freshman and sophomore year grades were terrible and I don't really think he knew he had the chance to become a college basketball player. He has a lot of work to do academically, but if he works as hard as he did last year, he should make some progress there."
If he can get his academics in order, programs from around the nation will be lining up for his services. Currently he holds three offers, but with a visit set to CMU this Thursday, the Chippewas will have the first shot to host him on campus.
"He has talked to head coach Ernie Zeigler over the phone and the first thing he is really looking to do is meet him and the coaching staff," said Miller. "Then he just needs to get on campus and get a feel for the program, meet some of the players and see what CMU basketball is all about."
And regardless if Cooper receives high major offers, the Chippewas sit very well with him.
"You know what, Gary is a very humble kid, he's not the type of kid to get caught up in all the hype. He's flown under the radar a bit, so some of the Mid-Majors will have a shot, and even though he has a lot of high major interest, he's not caught up in all that. At the end of the day he wants to go to the best situation, somewhere he can click, and more importantly a place where someone will care for him outside of basketball."
And it doesn't hurt Central Michigan's cause that they just brought in arguably the top recruiting class in the team's history in 2010.
"A lot," said Coach Miller on how much CMU's recent recruiting will affect Cooper's decision. "Because I know Trey Zeigler and Coach Zeigler, and I know Coach Kohne really well. In my opinion CMU has one of the top programs in the MAC and they are bringing in talent that is above the Mid-Major level."
After his visit to CMU this weekend, Cooper will once again be back in the orange jersey of the Ohio Gators, a relatively new AAU squad that has been making a ton of noise on the summer circuit this year.
"We have made some strides, we've pretty much won every pool we've been in," added Miller. "But we'll go 2-1, or 1-1 and make it to the elite eight before we get knocked out, so we haven't made it over that hump yet. Sometimes we can play a little selfish, Gary is our best offensive player and we get ourselves in trouble when we don't get him the ball consistently, and we have to start playing better defense, but those are all things we're working on."
Expect to hear more about Gary Cooper in the near future as he continues to burst onto the college basketball recruiting scene. We here at ChippewaCountry.com thank Ernie Miller for sharing his thoughts and wish his Ohio Gators nothing but the best in the coming months.
Stick to ChippewaCountry for the latest in CMU athletics and recruiting.
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