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Sunday, May. 19, 2019
Samantha Cooper: Looking back before moving on
by Randy Pascal

Success is seldom a guarantee when Sudbury-based athletes make their way off to the lure of NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) venues. Even those who manage to survive their entire four years of eligibility often do so with limited accolades coming their way.

Local basketball standout Samantha Cooper is not like many of the young adults who have ventured this path. And her rise to prominence as a member of the Fairfield (Connecticut) Stags was definitely not without its share of hurdles.

But it more than equipped her to deal with everything that lies ahead, including her first professional contract, as she prepares to leave, next month, suiting up with the Grengewald Hostert in Luxembourg.

It wasn't all that long ago when the gifted academic graduate of Lockerby Composite School was simply thankful for a chance to play the sport that she loves after missing her entire freshman season following surgery on both of her knees.

After getting her feet back under her in both 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, Cooper could see that there was much more left to be accomplished as she entered her final two campaigns with the Stags.

"I think it really kind of started last year (2016-2017), when I was named captain of the team," she recalled. "I think I really took on the role as not necessarily being super vocal, but leading through example. I could always control how hard I worked in practice and in the game, trying constantly to get better as a player."

"It just developed over time where I wasn't just grateful to be playing, but I wanted to definitely have more impact on the team to help take us to that next level. This year, especially with the graduation of some of our top players, I took on a huge leadership role on the team, where I was the scorer, the go to person."

"I loved the challenge that it brought, and I put up some decent numbers this year, so I was really happy about that." Her senior year would see Cooper register career highs in both points (451) and rebounds (300), leading the MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) in the latter category (10.0 rebounds per game) and finishing as the only player in the conference to average a double-double.

"When I was playing for the Sudbury Selects back in grade nine, our coach (Scott McWhirter) kind of challenged me one day about why I wasn't rebounding the ball more, if I was scared, becuase I was playing with older kids," admitted Cooper.

"I always let my coaches know I wanted to be the one who defended the other team's best player, or one of their best players. That was something I really wanted. I started taking more charges this year, which I think is something new to my game. Those were the major improvements that I made in the past year."

The incorporation of an on-court toughness was not an easy one for Cooper, who has forged a well-deserved reputation as a highly personable and intelligent young lady - all in all, a very "nice" person. "At first, it is kind of different, because you are kind of taking on two different roles," she said.

"Once you step on the basketball court, you have to have that chip on your shoulder, be that much more aggressive. That's something I really noticed when I came to school down here, the toughness of the battles in practice, even though we're very close."

That mental edge came in particularly handy this past season, as Fairfield endured something of a rebuild. "We handled that adversity really well this year," said Cooper. "We went up to Boston College and beat them, a huge win for us. We gave Seton Hall a really good game. I am really proud of this team."

While many a post-secondary athlete will second-guess, in the end, their ultimate destination of choice, the All-MAAC Second team all-star and selection to the All-Met Writers second team was not among them.

"I wouldn't trade a second of it," Cooper suggested. "Personally, I think I chose a good school. It was a mid-major school, it wasn't a top twenty five school where I'm never going to play. Having the opportunity to play, ultimately, that's what you want to do in college. You want to get on the court."

"Fairfield is a great academic school," she added. "It's a small school, with 15 people in my classes. I know all my professors really well. I have a really good relationship with them."

Looking back, Cooper would suggest that where she stands today is only partially due to her God-given physical attributes and athletic prowess. "I put a lot of time into rehabbing, into getting better as a player, but also as a person," she said. "I think that is part of the reason why I was able to stick in out and move on."

Sticking it all in a setting where not all northern Ontario sporting stars, heading south of the border, have.

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