NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. – Even as the No. 1 overall player in USA Today Sports’ Chosen 25, Sharife Cooper is “far from” the overconfident type.
“I just work,” Cooper said. “I love being No. 1, but I know that the only way to stay on top is to work harder than I did to get here. That and staying humble.”
That humility came in handy last month when Cooper wasn’t picked for the USA Basketball U19 team, which went on to claim the gold medal with a 93-79 win over Mail in the World Cup final.
“I was upset that I didn’t make it because I really wanted to represent my country,” Cooper said. “I feel like I should’ve made it, but that’s me. Now, I’m using it as motivation for Peach Jam.”
He looked plenty inspired Friday, posting 23 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds to lead AOT (Georgia) past Pro Skills (Texas) 91-76.
“I don’t make excuses, I just look for ways to grow,” Cooper said. “I didn’t make that team and that was humbling, but I have to move on.”
Even without the gold medal, Cooper has been one of the three most dominant players in the Nike EYBL all season, averaging 25.5 points, eight assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals a game, good enough to be named All-EYBL First Team.
Last year, Cooper led Peach Jam in scoring (30 ppg.) and assists (8.3 apg.).
Through four games at Peach Jam he’s averaging 24.5 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds a game. AOT remains undefeated.
That level of production has everyone from Duke to Kentucky to Auburn, among many others, all front and center for all of his games.
Still, with all of the accolades, production and intense courting from college coaches, Cooper said it’s not hard to find motivation to continue his dominance.
“I’m a winner, and I haven’t really won anything on the circuit,” Cooper said. “All that other stuff doesn’t mean anything to me. I win. That’s my only goal.”
Cooper accomplished that goal during the high school season, leading McEachern High School (Powder Springs, Georgia) to a 32-0 record, a state title and a No. 3 overall ranking in the final USA Today Super 25 rankings.
He was subsequently named ALL-USA Player of the Year.
“I want to go out the same way at Peach Jam,” Cooper said. “That’s all we’re focused on; nothing else matters.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY