IRVING, Texas – Even as the No. 1 overall player in USA Today Sports Chosen 25 for 2020, Sharife Cooper doesn’t need any help staying motivated, whether he’s playing against a fellow Chosen 25 player or an unknown player hungry to make a name.
Sure, he’s aware that the bull’s-eye on his back has grown since he became top dog a few weeks back, but he’s more driven by the basketball-sized chip on his shoulder from being underrated for so long.
“As hard as different players are gonna come at me; I’m coming harder at them,” Cooper said. “I still feel like I have to prove things. The last thing I feel is satisfied; I work harder now than I ever have.”
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Cooper’s grind is evident after checking in at No. 2 in the Nike EYBL in both scoring (26.7 ppg.) and assists (7.9 apg.) for AOT (Ga.).
He pumped in 32 points and dished out seven assists in a 89-79 win over Team United (N.C.) on Saturday.
Last season, Cooper was named Offensive MVP of the Nike EYBL and led the prestigious Nike Peach Jam in scoring and assists.
He followed that up by leading McEachern High School (Powder Springs, Ga.) to a perfect 32-0 record and the first boys basketball state title in the school’s history, averaging 28.6 points, 8.7 assists, six rebounds and 4.1 steals a game last season. The Indians finished No. 3 overall in the USA Today Super 25.
Cooper was subsequently named ALL-USA Player of the Year.
That production has every school from Kentucky to Auburn to Duke, among many others, lining up trying to lure him to their schools.
Cooper recently had an in-home with Auburn and plans to reschedule an in-home with Kentucky in the near future.
For now, he said he’s laser-focused on closing out the Nike EYBL’s regular season strong with AOT, who is sitting at 3-0 during this session, then “putting everything” in to USA Basketball.
“It means so much to me to be able to play for my country so I’m excited about that tryout,” Cooper said. “More than anything I love competition. I feel like that’s what separates me on the court. There’s nothing friendly about me out there; I’m there to win, period.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY