SLAM x Panini Rookie Spotlight: Hawks’ Sharife Cooper

SLAM x Panini Rookie Spotlight: Hawks’ Sharife Cooper

“I understand the main goal and I feel like me taking the sacrifices and these steps right now… it’ll pay off in the end.”

That was Sharife Cooper, manner again in the summertime of 2019, on the photograph shoot for his first ever SLAM cowl (SLAM 225, with Josh Christopher and Jalen Green). Those sacrifices he referenced? Well, on the time, it wasn’t uncommon for him and his dad, Omar, to tug as much as the Life Time health club in Atlanta at 1:00 am for a exercise, following a day filled with weightlifting, pick-up video games and extra.

It’s been almost three years since that shoot, and all of these sacrifices have undoubtedly paid off. Cooper was a McDonald’s All-American and consensus five-star prospect at McEachern High School (Georgia), changing into the highest-ranked recruit ever to decide to Auburn. He appeared in simply 12 video games for the Tigers on account of eligibility points, however averaged 20.2 factors, 8.1 assists. 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals. When he declared for the 2021 Draft, he turned simply the second one-and-done in program historical past.

At merely 6-1, Cooper lacks the dimensions that most of the different level guards in his class possess. Cade Cunningham is 6-6. Jalen Suggs is 6-5. Josh Giddey is 6-8. Tre Mann is 6-3. But when it comes to pure talent, Cooper can match up with anybody. As former NBA participant Brevin Knight, who grew up with Omar and stays near the Cooper household, advised SLAM in 2019: “Shit, I wish I had what [Sharife] had [during my career]. I look at the way that he plays the game with his [mind]—that’s probably the most similar to what I was able to do. But in terms of skill, I wish I had a tenth of the skill that he’s able to play with right now.”

“I have no problem guarding anybody on the basketball court, but when it comes to Sharife Cooper, just make sure you don’t mess up,” Christopher—now on the Houston Rockets—added. “I’ve guarded Sharife a couple of times and he’s got me. It’s crazy what he does with the basketball.”

Really loopy. Sharife has elite handles and an array of artistic strikes that he makes use of to navigate to the paint. Once there, he calmly surveys his choices, both discovering his personal shot or discovering a shot for another person. He modifications speeds and instructions effortlessly, one way or the other remaining in full management the entire time. Like any true flooring basic, he comes off screens, reads the protection and figures out one of the best ways to assault, whether or not it’s by scoring or facilitating.

The Hawks took Cooper with the 48th decide within the draft and instantly signed him to a two-way contract. With their depth, particularly within the backcourt, it turned clear that the 20-year-old wasn’t going to get a lot of a chance this season. He spent a lot of the previous a number of months with Atlanta’s G League affiliate: the College Park Skyhawks. Cooper was one of many crew’s leaders all year long and confirmed very promising indicators of progress. His play was a significant motive the Skyhawks earned a spot within the G League playoffs, ending the common season on a outstanding 11-game successful streak. 

Amid that stretch, Cooper appeared in 10 contests and averaged 18 factors and seven.3 assists, capturing 46 p.c from the sector. He had 24 and seven towards the Wisconsin Herd; 18 and 10 towards the Maine Celtics; 42 (on a staggering 14/19 from the sector and seven/9 from three), 5 assists, 4 steals and the game-winner towards the Lakeland Magic; 20 and eight towards the Grand Rapids Gold. Though the Skyhawks went on to lose to Capitol City within the first spherical of the playoffs (that are single elimination till the Finals), Cooper had one other spectacular evening, notching 19 factors and 13 assists (with 0 turnovers).

His improvement has been taking place behind-the-scenes—in smaller venues, with smaller crowds and much much less media consideration. But relaxation assured, Hawks followers, Cooper is making the sacrifices and taking the steps that he must proper now. And it would repay ultimately. 

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