Cooper stays on top

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This past Monday Minnesota Preps listed Robbinsdale Cooper as it's number one team in class AAAA based on their performance thus far this season. With massive wins over Little Falls and Henry Sibley as well as victories over Armstrong, Minnetonka, Wayzata, and Pequot Lakes we felt they earned it. And last night the Hawks made MN Preps look a little better with a 83-80 victory over class AAA title contender Benilde-St. Margaret's.
A year ago Cooper was 27-2 led by the play of Kenquane Brown (St. Cloud State), Joe Bright (Howard College-TX), Quincey Bethea (Anoka-Ramsey CC), and Rodney Williams (Minnesota). They combined with four other seniors to make up the team's nine man rotation. Only junior Darry Jones was considered a regular in last year's line-up who wasn't a senior.
Because of the massive roster loss many had to assume this team wouldn't come back as strong. The foundation of the program has been laid down so it was common knowledge that Cooper had the athletes to compete on a daily basis. But who expected them to be considered legit contenders for a state tournament run?
Of course a little luck never hurt anybody. Cooper received a pretty big gift in the arrival of 6-foot-8 Calvin Godfrey, a division one frontcourt prospect who has made himself a serious player of the year candidate after only seven games. Godfrey's physical presence is just what the rest of the Cooper line-up needed to be a threat as they already had a point guard (senior Elijah Swen), shooting guard (Jones), small forward (sophomore Darren Hebert), power forward (Brandon Harrison), and several players to back them up (juniors Terrance Averyheart and Charles Williams and seniors Johnny Jackson and Terry Glass).
Then the explosive shot blocking, the rim rattling finishes, the swallowing of rebounds, the low post intelligence, the verbal on floor direction, and most importantly the visible toughness of Godfrey came along to glue it all together. The result? A 7-0 start, a number one ranking, and victories over some of Minnesota's better programs at the class AA, AAA, and AAAA levels.
Godfrey has been the biggest piece to the puzzle but the Cooper Hawk program has a lot of things that are fitting correctly. The coaching staff is led by head coach Dave Johnson with several assistants who are putting in good work with the best interests of the kids in their mind. Together they have plotted an early season undefeated record that includes great organization and structure.
Cooper also has a rifleman in Jones whose shooting stroke has to rank up their as one of the more dangerous in the metro. Darry is scoring 15.1 points per game right now leading the team (Godfrey is at 14.7 but that total has been hampered by the Armstrong game that he barely played in) and he has teammates who are constantly looking to get him the basketball.
Swen and Hebert bring a lot of activity to the floor both defensively and on hustle plays. They help spearhead ball pressure that completely rattled Benilde-St. Margaret's to the point that the Red Knights had to take the ball out of Isaiah Zeirden's hands and let senior forward Peter Crawford take care of it. And later in the game that pressure forced the Red Knights into four straight possessions with turnovers down the stretch.
Swen is another leader on the Hawks who wears his emotions on his sleeve. He may get a little excited at times but Swen showed last night that he knows how to channel his excitement into a strong effort on both ends of the floor. Add in the soft low post touch of Harrison and the Hawks have a dangerous starting five. Then you have the bounce of Williams, the length of Jackson, and the bench scoring of Averyheart to spell the starters. Averyheart had a tough game last night but he scored 22 against Sibley and is averaging 7.9 points even after going scoreless against the Knights.
People seem to be waiting for Cooper to fail but last night's win over Benilde-St. Margaret's has to prove that this team will contend through March. Their schedule has made them battle tested and helped make them class AAAA's number one team. Expect them to hold on to the top spot for a couple weeks but there are more tough battles coming in the future. Cooper heads to Armstrong on Jan 21st and that will be followed with games against Totino-Grace, a rematch with Minnetonka, Hopkins, Columbia Heights, Buffalo, and then the re-match with the Red Knights on February 11th.
Quick Hitters
• First off is a public correction. This summer I watched both Harrison and Jackson play with the Minnesota Fury. Somehow I got their names confused and ended up reporting Harrison's name as Jackson and vice versa. I continued to run with this in my statements and previews in the Breakdown preview book and other places. Imagine my surprise when Harrison was introduced last night and who I saw in the number 41 jersey was completely the opposite looking of who I thought he was. We all make mistakes right?
• Coaches in the building included those from UMD, St. John's, and MCTC amongst others.
Myles Barnes opened the game with an explosive one-handed leaning dunk that definitely surprised. The explosion had many wondering if that was Royce White or Myles Brand dunking in the lane. Brand has added a lot of muscle to his frame and it helped him score a lot early but not as much late. The sophomore had 13 for the Red Knights and looking at this 6-foot-5 physical and agile frame you have to wonder how much defensive end or tight end is in his future. He's a nice basketball prospect but Myles could be a beast of a football prospect if he continues to learn the game.
• Godfrey is relentless in his pursuit of the basketball on the glass and there are very few in Minnesota who has the combination of strength and agility to slow down his rebounding pursuit. Calvin is pretty loose on the floor but he is a smart player. He understands defense and the positioning that goes with it, Calvin is a nice passer, and he was always talking to his teammates on the floor as a leader and as a director. Godfrey is also one of the fiercest shot blockers Minnesota has seen in a while as he can cover ground to swat attempts with a destructive force and he's pretty quick off his feet. For the game he made ten of 21 shot attempts and three of seven free throws. He recorded a double-double at 23 points and 13 rebounds plus he had five blocks.
• Zierden's already very crafty with the basketball and if he continues to work on his skills (which he does as hard as just about anybody within the Minnesota borders) he may approach wizard status in terms of passing skills. Isaiah did have some problems bringing the ball up against the Cooper press and turnovers were the early result. But with talent comes versatility, which allowed Zierden to play off-guard leading the team with 23 points. Isaiah made four three pointers for the game as part of his seven of 15 shooting. He also hit five of six free throws. Isaiah really looks like he's grown up and added a lot of strength to his frame.
• The closest comparison to Peter Crawford's game may be in Williams Arena where Damian Johnson resides. Of course Peter doesn't have the bounce that Damian has or his height but the comparison is in the area of versatility and character. Much like Johnson's ability to contribute in countless ways for Tubby Smith Crawford does the same for BSM. Last night he handled the basketball with great comfort attacking the rim at will. Peter is very good with his off-hand and he's able to score both inside and out. Crawford is also a good rebounder, a nice passer, he blocks a lot of shots, he's active on both ends, he's a leader, his length gets him a lot of deflections, and to close things out the young man is simply a fantastic get for UMD. Don't get me wrong Peter has room for skill growth in his game and he may not be the explosive athlete like a Joe Coleman is but Crawford is still pretty darn agile. He made six of 11 shots attempts and ten of 13 free throws to score 22 for BSM. Peter also snared ten boards to get a double-double.
• Cooper's defense limited Seth Marx's shooting attempts but the shots he did take showed that Marx has one of the softest touches in the Twin Cities. With good size, good height, and the capability to knock down four or five triples in a heartbeat (Lakeville South remembers) Marx is moving up the list of the top MIAC programs. He had 11 last night and is averaging a dozen points a game.
• Jones made eight of 14 shots for the game to score for Cooper. Swen also had 21.