D.J. Cooper Finally ‘First Priority’ After Leading No. 13 Ohio to Sweet 16 in NCAA Tournament


D.J. Cooper Finally 'First Priority' After Leading No. 13 Ohio to Sweet 16 in NCAA TournamentWhen D.J. Cooper committed to Ohio University in early 2009, he was a major recruit heading to a mid-major program.

The then 5-foot-9, 140 pound senior at Chicago's Seton Academy was listening to sales pitches from coaches at schools in the Big Ten and Big 12, among other high-level universities. Yet, when it came to decision time, the diminutive point guard chose to attend a school in the much smaller Mid-American Conference.

It wasn't Cooper's first intention to attend the MAC school, as he had always dreamed of playing for a major Division-I program. But sometimes things have a funny way of working themselves out.

Before Cooper led Ohio to arguably the program's biggest win in school history against fourth-seeded Michigan on Friday, he had always been looked at as being second best.

During his college decision process, Cooper formed a tight bond with the Baylor University staff and the school found its way right to the top of his wish list. But while the guard finished off his senior season in Chicago, Ill., Baylor continued on in hot pursuit of another talented guard by the name of John Wall.

When Cooper found out about Baylor's push for Wall, he felt almost betrayed and began weighing his options. Then, soon after Wall signed on to play for John Calipari at Kentucky, coach Scott Drew and the Baylor staff re-opened their phone lines and reached out to Cooper.  He wasn't buying it.

"I wanted to feel like I was someone's main priority," Cooper said of the wishy-washy situation at Baylor during this week's media session. "I knew they were trying to get John Wall, and after he decided to go to Kentucky, they decided to call me a little bit then."

The guard left the Bears in his rearview, right then and there. He was moving on to maybe not bigger, but certainly better things.

During his freshman season with the Bobcats in 2009-10, he helped lead the team to a 22-15 record and their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2005. The MAC's freshman of the year then geared up his 14th-seeded Bobcats teammates for a showdown with highly-touted Georgetown, taking down the Hoyas 97-83 behind Cooper's 23 points and eight assists.

After the game, major D-1 program's began calling about Cooper and asking about his availability. But the now 5-foot-11 guard didn't even flinch at the interest, wanting to finish what he had started.

At that point, the Georgetown upset was the biggest victory in the history of the Bobcats' program. That reigned true, until Sunday night.

After outperforming an extremely talented No. 4 Michigan team on Thursday, once again on the back of Cooper — 21 points and five assists — Ohio took to a showdown with a defensive-minded South Florida team. The Bobcats didn't strain under the pressure and persevered once more behind Cooper.

The now junior guard put together what may have been the most well-rounded effort of the season against the Bulls on Sunday. Cooper scored 19 points in the effort, to go along with seven assists, six rebounds and two steals. The only real negative on the day for MAC Player of the Year candidate was his unusually high four turnovers.

Cooper's outstanding performance helped lead the Bobcats to the school's first Sweet 16 appearance in 48 years (1964). The faithful Ohio fans on hand in Nashville, Tenn. on Sunday went wild over the Bobcats' big win and naturally the players went even crazier inside the team's locker room following the big victory.

There have already been a number of great upsets and storylines in this year's NCAA Tournament, and with each a 10, 11 and 14 seed now represented in the Sweet 16 fans can only hope for another VCU-esque Cinderella run in this year's tournament.

Not only is Ohio's place in a game against No. 1 North Carolina already a feat in and of itself, but a miraculous win over the now Kendall Marshall-less Tar Heels — Marshall broke his right wrist on Sunday — would make the Bobcats the lowest seed ever to make an appearance in the Elite Eight (No. 12 Missouri, 2002).

Ohio has had an amazing run through this year's tournament on their own, but for an honorable and loyal player like Cooper, a triumph like this means even more.

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