Posted On: 12/23/20 12:49 PM

I’ve interviewed a lot of players in my years writing for Prep Hoops, and almost all of them tell me that their ultimate goal is to win a state championship. It’s the pinnacle of success in high school sports, and there aren’t many that can say that they are state champs.

For Green Run senior point guard Jake Cooper, he was on the verge of being able to play in a state championship when his life was turned upside down and everything was put into perspective for him. After winning the regional championship at the Norfolk Scope last year, he found out that his former teammate and former Beach District POY Ashley James had been in an accident and had been fatally shot not long after the game had ended.

“It was really tough for me,” Cooper said. “I was driving home after we won the regional championship and my cousin called me and said AJ might be dead and I honestly didn’t want to believe what I was told. After a couple days of grieving though, I could only try to look on the bright side and do what would make him happy.”

On the verge of the biggest moment in his basketball career, the teenage Cooper now had to deal with the unexpected death of a close friend and former teammate. The entire team was in shock, but the mature leader that Cooper is was able to contain himself and his emotions, and it gave him a whole new perspective on basketball and life in general.

“It made me realize that no matter what you can’t take life for granted because anything could happen at any time,” he said. “When he passed, I could only look and think back on all the good memories we had over the years.”

The Stallions went on to win their next two games and were set to face the Norview Pilots, another talented team from the 757 in the state championship game in two days, when they got some more tough news. After playing in the memory of their friend and vowing to win a state championship for him, the VHSL announced they would cancel the upcoming state championship games in response to the ever growing Covid-19 pandemic. It was another tough blow for a team that had been through so much.

“When I heard about the championship getting canceled, it kind of hurt because I wanted to prove a lot of doubters wrong and do it for AJ. We wanted to accomplish something that had never been done at Green Run, but it’s still a blessing that we got the ring and the banner and the picture but we wanted to do it the right way.”

Despite the disappointment, Cooper continued to stay in the gym and continue to improve and get better. One of the top floor generals in the state, he’s a guy who leads by example and when you see the best player in the gym every day it makes the rest of the team work that much harder.

“I’m just staying in the gym and working out about four times a week and trying to get my game ready for the next level,” he said. “I think this pandemic will show how good our work ethic is and what we do to get better through whatever circumstances.”

Cooper is only about 5’9”, but he routinely outplays guys bigger and more athletic than him with his mix of intelligence and skill set on the floor. He’s a guy who is always in control of the game, he makes everyone on his team better and he sets the tone on both ends of the floor. He’s equally impressive as a scorer and as a distributor, and he always maintains a calm demeanor whether his team is up 20, in a close game or down 20.

While Cooper is still without a division one offer, that doesn’t mean he’s under the radar as he is one of the most sought after prospects by division two schools in the entire state. He holds full offers from Tusculum (TN), Mount Olive (NC), Chowan (NC), Virginia Union, West Virginia Wesleyan, Southwestern Wesleyan (SC) and more. He says he talks every week with Lincoln Memorial (TN) and Mount Olive, two of the top division two schools in the country, and hears from new schools every day.

As far as what he’s looking for in a school, he wants somewhere he can fit in and play his game and help his team win.

“I’m looking to find somewhere that shows me love and and wants to win at all costs,” he said.

With everything with the season up in the air, not only is Cooper waiting to see if he can get back on the court, he’s also waiting to see what will happen before he makes his decision.

“If there is a season, I’m probably going to make my decision in between the middle of February and the middle of March.”

When asked what he thinks he can bring to a program at the next level, it’s pretty much the same thing he’s brought to Green Run the last few years.

“I’m a good leader, a floor general, I love to win at all costs and I’m a gritty player on both ends.”

Cooper is a guy that everyone has doubted at times because of his size, including me, but the more you watch him the more you realize his size doesn’t define him. He’s a true leader that doesn’t back down from competition, doesn’t get rattled and can do a little bit of everything on the court. He’s one of the best available lead guards in the state, and he’s a guy that will make many coaches upset they didn’t recruit him when they have to play him at the next level.