Within European women's pro basketball circles, Samantha Cooper must surely now be considered a seasoned vet.
Currently 28 years of age and preparing for the start of her sixth season of play across the other side of the pond, the graduate of Lockerby Composite is in a completely different place than she was when she first made her way to Luxembourg on the heels of a highly successful career with the Fairfield Stags NCAA program in Connecticut.
It certainly hasn't hurt that each and every stop along the way, Cooper has played an integral role for her team. "I've been really blessed, the past two years especially, to have a lot of offers, which is nice," said the eldest of two children in the family. "I can be a bit more choosy."
"Last year, I chose Hungary because it was a top rated league. This year, the team I signed on with (Rutronik Stars) plays in the German League, but also the Euro Cup League."
And while Cooper is more than happy to throw in the additional ultra-competitive matchups on to her plate for the 2023-2024 season, she is not the least bit oblivious to the price that she is paying in the interest of pushing herself right to the limit, physically speaking.
"I have to be cognizant of the fact that I am 28 years old and I've logged a lot of minutes these past few years," said Cooper, who once again represented Canada in international 3 on 3 tournaments this summer, travelling to Switzerland just a few months ago.
"If I am going to be playing in two leagues this year, I wanted to be sure, minutes-wise, that it was doable. The coach estimates that I will be play 25 to 30 minutes (per game), which, for me, is perfect."
"Last year, I was at 38 (minutes), which was very tough on my body."
"The pounding down low and then running up the court was a lot," continued Cooper. "I could feel last year on my body so that was something I really prioritized going into this year."
And for as much as Cooper has always been more than willing to push the boundaries of her game, layering new skill sets overtop of what is already a very impressive hardcourt foundation, there is certainly something to be said for understanding the player that you are.
"I think now I am less inclined to add new elements to my game and just do what I do and am known for," she noted. "At this stage of my career, I know why they are bringing me in."
"I kind of want to play to that, especially this year," Cooper added. "I really want to lean into my strengths and do them the best that I can, be as effective as I can."
Long known for the fierce intensity that she carries to the floor, Cooper is also more than a little thankful to have reached a stage where there is a very social factor in play, the 6'3" forward having already reached out to the head coach from her days in Luxembourg, the German-born gentleman now the GM of one of the clubs in her new league.
"The longer I play, the smaller the basketball community gets," she mused. "I am looking forward to catching up with some familiar faces."
There is no denying the attraction of new faces and places in this particular line of work, though the northern Ontario multi-sport talent - Cooper also played competitive soccer as a youngster and was a go-to attacker with her high-school volleyball team as well - is definitely partial to one particularly pleasant stop along the way.
"I am sure that I have pieces of every country but if I had to choose, it would probably be Greece," she exclaimed. "The Greek people were so warm and welcoming. The climate, the food - it was a wonderful experience."
Yet for as much as she has now amassed enough memories to last her a lifetime, Samantha Cooper knows that there remains plenty of roadway ahead, that journey carrying with it the need to look beyond her days as an athlete.
Finishing up her masters in sport psychology as we speak, the highly self-aware young woman seems like a natural fit for a transition to coaching, should the opportunity arise.
"I feel like I am getting to that point and preparing for that now," said Cooper, utilizing her summers back home to expand her basketball toolbox, working out with Laurentian women's head coach Jason Hurley and picking his brain ad nauseum.
"It's been nice to learn basketball from the coaching side with him. In the next two years, I think I could step into that role (coaching) and be confident and ready for that, happy with what I've achieved as a player."