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Samantha Cooper: More travel than usual for a traveller at heart
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Samantha Cooper is something of a basketball vagabond by nature - discerned in part on the fact that she has displayed a clear-cut propensity to seek out a wonderful variety of foreign destinations in pursuing her professional career.

Yet even by her standards and spirit of adventure, the 2020-2021 season proved to be one heck of an interesting ride.

After tours of duty in both Luxembourg and Sweden, the 26 year-old highly decorated graduate of the Fairfield University Stags NCAA program in Connecticut opted to seek out something a little closer to the Mediterranean last summer, signing on with PA S Giannini in Greece.

“It was awesome,” said Cooper, who recently returned home and is currently enduring her 14-day quarantining period. “The people were super friendly, especially in the town I was in (Ioannina). We would be walking down the street and fans would stop us and talk to us, which was nice, since with the pandemic, they weren’t able to come to the games.”

“It was nice to see that we still had that community support.”

That said, the item that consistently tops the list of key factors for Cooper and others who continue to play once their post secondary days are done is always the development of their game, that ability to expand their skill set in the hopes of reaching whatever their maximum potential might be.

“The basketball was a very high tempo game, with lots of transition - and my coach wanted us to shoot a lot of threes, really push the ball, which coincided with my style of play,” she said. “My coach gave me the green light to take as many shots as I was open for. Then he also ran me off some different screens, which gave me different looks at the three point line.”

“I think that helped me work on my footwork and I learned to get into my shot quicker.”

Unfortunately, the effects of COVID-19 in Greece turned out to be not all that dissimilar to the Canadian experience. The league was postponed in November, allowing Cooper to enjoy a little more of an extended Christmas break in Sudbury than normal. But as she flew back in the new year, there was still no restart plan in place.

“It was getting close to the signing deadline and I really wanted to make sure I was playing games,” she admitted. “We were practicing, we were training, but we weren’t playing games - and after a while, that can get a little bit boring.”

To be clear, few would ever describe Samantha Cooper as boring.

Off she went, with yet another stamp on a passport that would make global jet-hoppers proud.

“The move to France was great,” said Cooper, seemingly unable to find anything but the positives in every road that she travels. “I got off the plane and three days later, we had a game. It was a nice fresh start, a chance to play basketball again.”

Extremely outgoing by nature, the Lockerby Composite graduate had to tap into some of her hometown schooling to help ease her into a new and potentially tricky situation. “Because I hopped in midway (through the season) and got into games so soon, it was a little more difficult to build relationships with some of my new teammates,” she said.

“Thankfully, the fact that I speak french really helped. They felt a lot more comfortable speaking french, so it all worked out really well.”

Well, perhaps mostly well.

With her team (Tarbes Gespe Bigorre in Tarbes, France) having overcome a slow start to the season, putting together a flurry of wins late to qualify for the playoffs, Cooper and company would be thrown another twist.

As the post-season was set to commence, the local product and a good number of her teammates would test positive for COVID, their championship dreams evaporating in the process. Thankfully, as far as she can tell, Cooper is no worse for the wear.

“Overall, I was pretty lucky,” she said. “I really only had symptoms for a couple of days. I felt pretty tired for maybe a week or two where I couldn’t work out much. Now, I feel normal and fine.”

And just when it appeared that the season would end on that disappointing note, one final twist of the plot would be interjected as Cooper received a call from Basketball Canada, asking her to play in a three on three tournament in France.

“It’s always an honour to wear the Canadian jersey and has always been something I wanted to do again,” said the northern Ontario product, who teamed up with twins Katherine and Michelle Frances Plouffe, as well as guard Ceejay Nofuente at the FIBA 3 X 3 Women’s Series in Voiron (France). “It’s very exciting to get that call; just to be back on the radar is a really good feeling.”

Though Team Canada would drop their two official outings to France (20-15) and Spain (19-18) before taking on the Ukraine, Russia and Switzerland for a set of friendlies the next day, Cooper was more than pleased with all of the positive takeaways from the tournament itself.

“It was a super fun experience,” she said. “It’s very fast paced. They really don’t call fouls, so there’s not a lot of stoppages of play.” And though there is likely a great deal of debate as to the ideal lineup structure for three on three basketball, the Canadian entry played to the roster that they fielded.

“The twins are actually taller than I am,” confessed the 6’2” Sudburian. “From a defensive standpoint, it was great because we switched off all screens. That can be really difficult for other teams to play against; we’re just not giving you a lane to the basket. Even if someone gets by you, you have a shot blocker waiting at the basket.”

“Because I can shoot the ball, defenders had to respect me and come out a little more, which gave the bigger girls more room inside, which is more of their game. I think it will only help me with my five on five game, just because you get so many more touches and you have to make so many quick decisions.”

As the international competition wrapped up in late May, Cooper confirmed her intentions for 2021-2022, resigning with her team in Greece. “I felt that we had some unfinished business there,” she said. “I want to go and play a full season and see what we can do with that.”

For as much as Samantha Cooper has always excelled academically and is not oblivious to her career possibilities, outside of sport, and for as much as the past season was as up and down as any that she has previously endured, there was a sense of the organic as the spring came to an end.

“The chance to play three on three for my country really helped me cement what I was feeling, that I wanted to continue to play,” she said. “In most summers, because I value my education, it was always a toss-up. But putting on the Canadian jersey, I felt this is really where I should be.”

“It was really nice to kind of finish on a high note in France.”

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