With cat quick point guards Jared Cooper and J’Von McCormick leading the way, Auburn has enjoyed major success in recent basketball seasons. Both were key performers in the Tigers winning the most recently played SEC Tournament and making a run to the Final Four the last time the NCAA Tournament was played.
As exciting as those guys were Auburn’s current point guard, Sharife Cooper, has more of a wow factor than any Auburn point guard since 1970s star Eddie Johnson, a great scorer, a great passer and a great defender in the Dr. Bob Davis Era.
Cooper has a chance to lead the Southeastern Conference in both scoring and assists despite getting a late start and playing in only conference games with no opportunity to pad his statistics against out-matched opponents early in the schedule.
There have certainly been better shooting point guards at Auburn and physically stronger players at the position, but nobody has possessed the combination of passing ability and quickness that Cooper brings to Coach Bruce Pearl’s team. He has a real feel for the game and can anticipate that a teammate is going to be open before it actually happens.
Effective passing the ball right-handed or going lefty, Cooper has exceptional on-court vision that helps him calculate when and where to throw the basketball or where and when to shoot it. The SEC has a lot of good newcomers this year, but Cooper is by far the most exciting of the bunch even though he got a late start by not gaining his eligibility until game 11.
The former McEachern High star from Powder Springs, Ga., is so dynamic that Auburn fans are concerned he will be a one-and-done player who will be entering the 2021 NBA Draft. That may happen, but if he wants to continue to develop there is plenty he can work on to improve his all-around game and his draft stock by returning for the 2021-22 season.
First, and foremost, he needs to develop a more consistent three-point shot. At around six feet tall, he will be an undersized point guard as a pro. To make it in the NBA at that size you better be able to shoot the ball very well from everywhere, especially from long range.
After playing three seasons at Auburn, Johnson became an NBA All-Star because he had a very good long-range shooting touch in addition to the ability to dribble past opponents and attack the basket. As a college freshman “Fast Eddie” was a lot physically stronger than Cooper is and a better defender.
Physically, a year in Auburn’s strength and conditioning program would help Cooper become better defensively. That is an area of his game where there is plenty of room for improvement.
Quickness is the centerpiece of the freshman’s offensive package. He uses his ability to zip past defenders on a dribble drive and score at the basket, often through contact. More strength would help him make a higher percentage of those close-range shots in traffic.
As expected the Tigers have had an up and down season with no seniors and one of the least experienced rosters in college hoops, but it has been an interesting team to watch and the fun factor for fans increased dramatically beginning with the first time Cooper took the floor and gave the team a much needed boost.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter