Soon after John Groce was named head coach in 2009, he secured the commitment of the most influential player in the history of Ohio University basketball, a 5’9” 150-pound point guard from Chicago named DJ Cooper.
Since his arrival in Athens, Oh., the diminutive point guard has used his lethal scoring ability and all-around game to establish himself as one of the premier point guards of the 21st century. In the last three seasons, Cooper has guided the Bobcats to two appearances in the NCAA Tournaments, and two MAC championships.
As his time at Ohio comes to a close, Cooper is on track to graduate with one of the most impressive careers in college basketball history. According to Zac Johnson of Fox Sports Ohio, “Cooper is likely to become the first player in the history of Division I college basketball to collect 2,000 points, 900 assists, 500 rebounds and 300 steals in his career.”
With a 26-point, 5-rebound and 4-assist performance against the Akron Zips on Wednesday night, Cooper surpassed 900 assists and 600 rebounds for his career. In a game against Kent State on January 26th, Cooper recorded his 300th steal, and currently sits at 317. That leaves the 2,000 point threshold as the only barrier between Cooper and immortality.
After his 26-point outing against the Zips, Cooper stands just 16 points shy of 2,000 career points. Over the next two weeks, he will have three regular season games (and a possible postseason appearance) to reach the monumental milestone. Currently averaging 13.9 point per game, only an injury (knock on wood) can prevent Cooper from creating his own category in the NCAA record book.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Cooper’s Ohio career is not how he has played, but how he got to Athens in the first place. As a 5’9” lead guard, Cooper was an afterthought on the recruiting trail, and held offers from only Kent State and Loyola Illinois going into the summer before his senior season at Seton Academy.
With the hiring of John Groce, the Bobcats entered into the equation.
Groce, the lead recruiter of Greg Oden and Mike Conley as an assistant at Ohio State, immediately saw the superstar potential of Cooper, and made his entire coaching staff a constant presence at Cooper’s games. Noted Cooper’s high school coach Brandon Thomas, “They coveted him as a Kentucky would covet a John Wall.”
As the rest of the college basketball world would soon find out, Groce knew exactly what he was talking about. As a freshman playing in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, Cooper dropped 23 points and 8 assists to help the No.14-seed Bobcats upset the No.3-seed Georgetown Hoyas.
With two appearances in the Big Dance over the last three seasons, Groce parlayed Ohio’s success into the head coaching position at Illinois. Jim Christian, formerly the coach of the TCU Horned Frogs, was hired as his replacement, and has been enamored by Cooper’s ability to make an impact in every facet of the game.
“In regards to the record and to D.J., these situations don’t come up very often,” Christian said to FoxSports. “It takes not only a special player but the right situation for him to be an impact player for four years. They’re few and far between for a reason. It has to be an ideal fit for both parties, and a freshman has to be mature enough to step up and lead and good enough doing it to be accepted. D.J. obviously stepped up as a leader early and has grown in that role since.”
Cooper has continued to fill up the stat sheet during his senior year, however, Ohio is at risk of missing the NCAA Tournament. After going 12-1 over its previous 13 games, the Bobcats have dropped two in a row, and according to Joe Lunardi of ESPN, they are currently projected to stay home for March Madness.
On Saturday, Cooper and the Bobcats will travel to the Stroh Center to take on the Bowling Green Falcons. The game will be televised on ESPN3. Tune in to see Cooper solidify his place in college basketball lore.