Shannon Russell reports
Midway through his introductory press conference Monday afternoon, Miami University men’s basketball coach John Cooper said nine words that signified the new era of RedHawks hoops.
“I like to get up and down the court,” Cooper said at Miami’s Voice of America Learning Center in West Chester.
Fans burst into applause.
An attacking, pressing style is just one way the former Tennessee State coach plans to put his mark on Miami basketball. Accompanied by his wife, Melissa, 5-year-old daughter Kennedy and 4-year-old son Kameron, Cooper pledged to infuse the program with pride, passion and excitement.
“I feel honored and I’m gracious for the opportunity,” said Cooper, 43, as his father, John, and step-mother, Milly, looked on. “I stand before you because I believe this place can be special.
“It will take time, but enjoy the ride. This will be fun.”
Cooper accepted the job Friday, about five weeks after 16-year Miami coach Charlie Coles announced his retirement. Miami signed Cooper to a five-year contract with an annual base salary of $250,000 plus academic and athletic incentives.
Cooper went 43-52 in three seasons at Tennessee State, including a 27-25 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference.
His Tigers upset then-undefeated and seventh-ranked Murray State Feb. 9 and finished with a 20-13 record. It was Tennessee State’s first winning tally since 1995-96 and first 20-win season in 32 years.
Cooper was on athletic director Brad Bates’ radar before Feb. 19, when Tennessee State beat Miami 68-61 in a Sears BracketBuster game at Millett Hall. Analyst and former colleague Eddie Fogler, Cooper’s coach at Wichita State, had told Bates to keep an eye on Cooper.
Bates later tapped into other Tennessee resources he established during his time at Vanderbilt and was consistently given rave reviews about Cooper, a former Rhodes Scholar candidate.
Not only was Bates impressed by Cooper’s focus on academics, but he valued Cooper’s emphasis on relationship-building.
“When we developed the profile of the coach we were looking for, one thing that came out really strongly for our players was that they wanted a coach that developed relationships on and off the court,” Bates said.
Cooper met with Miami players Friday morning to introduce himself and begin forging those relationships.
“It was great,” RedHawks guard Quinten Rollins said. “He had a lot of enthusiasm. I was impressed with the way that he spoke to us and the way he carried himself.”
Rollins said he and other RedHawks were excited about the prospects of Cooper’s playing style. Rollins remembered Tennessee State playing “really loose” during the February game at Miami.
Cooper plans to add Tennessee State assistant coach Sheldon Everett and director of basketball operations Trey Meyer to his Miami staff but has not finalized his full complement yet.
He expects to fill the two open RedHawks scholarships. He also hopes to fill seats at Millett Hall.
Cooper urged fans to help “protect our (floor)” at the arena, which housed an average 1,797 fans in 14 games last season. Tennessee State fared considerably better on its home court – 11-2, to Miami’s 7-7 – and averaged crowds of 3,338.
The bottom line, Cooper said, is that he will work his “tail off every single day” for Miami.
“I would hope that you will give me time to grow, get comfortable, and represent your university the right way,” Cooper said. “Because I’ll be here.
“I plan on being here for the long haul.”
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