Sharife Cooper is in this weird space where on one hand, as the reigning ALL-USA Player of the Year and No. 2 overall player in USA Today Sports’ Chosen 25, he feels the bull’s-eye growing daily; yet on the other hand he hears the whispers that McEachern High School (Powder Springs, Georgia) is vulnerable this year with Cooper as the only returning starter from last year’s 32-0 state championship team.
“It can make you think crazy if you let it,” said Cooper, a point guard who is signed to Auburn. “I don’t. I just use it as motivation both ways; if people are sleeping on us that makes me want to go all out even more, and if people want to be first to knock off the champs I can’t let that happen, so I have to go all out. Either way, I’m going all out.”
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That PSA was deafening last weekend at the Thanksgiving Shootout.
Cooper averaged 48 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds a game; that included a 44-point, 10-rebound, six-assist performance against No. 12 Mayfair (Lakewood, California), which featured five-star guards Josh Christopher, who is ranked No. 16 in the Chosen 25, and Dior Johnson.
The Indians, who check in at No. 6 in USA Today’s Super 25, won 87-79 and sit at 6-0 for the season.
For the season, Cooper is averaging 34 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists a game. That’s up from last season when Cooper averaged 28.6 points, 8.7 assists and six rebounds a game.
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“Every time we step on the court, one way or the other people want us to fail,” Cooper said. “That’s the bottom line. It’s a different energy when it’s you and your guys against everyone else. It’s different, but I like it.”
Another difference is Cooper’s role as a scorer; sounds wild for a guy who averaged 28 points a game last season, but Cooper said he’s taking on the challenge of elevating his scoring this season.
“Last year I had guys that would take that load, but this year it’s something I have to do more of for my team,” Cooper said. “I’ve always prided myself in being the guy who would do whatever it takes for my team to win because winning is all that matters to me. Scoring comes naturally to me so it’s just a matter of staying aggressive. I still don’t force things, and I’m a natural playmaker so I’m always gonna make my teammates better and make the right basketball play. It’s a new year and a new challenge, and I’m ready for it.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY