HAGERSTOWN — There’s no such thing as a storybook signoff for John Cooper. At least, that’s what the 58-year-old discerned over the last few months.
The well-known Maryland high school basketball coach has contemplated retirement from the game for years. In March 2015, he hung up the clipboard to chase new endeavors, like becoming a certified strength and conditioning coach and pursuing his master’s degree in special education. Though he carried on his passion of serving others, being out of the gym irked Cooper.
Thanks to his strength and conditioning avenue, he built a hardy bond with Frederick High players Dwayne Garner and Jayme Sappington over the summer of 2016, and naturally, Cooper navigated his way back onto the coaching scene. He became an assistant for the Cadets this past year, and on Saturday night, head-coached the Frederick County all-stars in the Roundball Classic’s South Mountain Showdown against Washington County.
Frederick County cruised to a 126-96 win.
“One minute I say I’m retired, then you kind of get back into it,” Cooper said. “It’s addicting. I love being in the gym.”
Cooper, who went 93-26 with three region titles in his five-year varsity stint at Urbana, recalled it was his “third or fourth” all-star game.
“I enjoy it,” Cooper said. “You get to meet different kids from different schools. … I had a real good group this year. I’ve known most of them since middle school. They really listened.”
Garner and Sappington, two all-county selections by The Frederick News-Post who led the Cadets to a 15-9 season, both played in Saturday night’s senior all-star showcase, their last competitive go-around with Cooper. Garner finished with two points on 1-for-6 shooting, eight rebounds and three assists. Sappington, meanwhile, flourished, putting up 24 points on 11-for-19 shooting, 10 rebounds and two steals.
— Kyle McFadden (@k_fadd) April 1, 2017
“[Cooper coaching us this year] meant a lot, him coming to me personally, and then to the team,” Sappington said. “It meant a lot. I don’t think he’s done.”
Tuscarora’s Jaylen Washington, who garnered MVP honors with 25 points (8-for-15 shooting), seven rebounds and six assists), will relish this past week spent with the revered coach he’s known since middle school.
“It was a great experience,” Washington said. “I love Coop. I’ve known him since I’ve been in eighth or seventh grade. I talk to him a lot. Him and [my brother] Lamell had a good relationship. Coop is a great guy. His time at Urbana was great. He beat us my freshman year.”
— Kyle McFadden (@k_fadd) April 2, 2017
In terms of the game, Frederick County led for 37:51 of the 40 minutes. After Washington County took an early 4-2 edge, Tuscarora’s Obe Noel (21 points, three rebounds) spurred an 8-0 personal run with a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer in the left wing. The closest Washington County got was 12-8 at the 15 minute mark in the first half, and soon after, Frederick County rattled off a 19-1 run to swell the lead to 46-18 with under six minutes until halftime.
Frederick County led 58-38 at halftime and scored 30 points off 26 Washington County turnovers.
“I thought we played pretty good defense as far as help and stuff like that,” Cooper said. “And we did a pretty decent job of moving the ball. It’s not like a normal game, but for an all-star game, I thought we did a pretty good job on that. The kids were all into it. It was a lot of fun.”
When the game was out of reach, behind bulletin-board-material motivation, Washington performed a dazzling crossover to shake free from his defender to set up a crowd-pleasing stepback trey that pushed Team Frederick over the century mark. Minutes later, he drilled another 3 to give Frederick County their largest lead of the night at 108-76.
“You got to have fun, play free, play open,” Washington said. “You can’t worry about who is here watching you. You just have to play. … [Getting the win], it means a lot. We need more respect. People look over us a lot. They were talking since like Tuesday. Elijah [Clarence] and them. It had me fueled up.”
Both teams shot 46 percent.
Middletown’s Evan Joseph added 13 points on 3-for-4 shooting from deep, five rebounds and two steals.Walkersville’s Kyle Daggett pitched in with 11 points, five rebounds and a pair of steals. Tuscarora’s Marcus Waddy (six rebounds) and Kevin Bell each netted eight points. Linganore’s Jadyn Eakins contributed with six points, four rebounds and three steals. Urbana’s Garrett Drummond mustered five points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals. Thomas Johnson’s Jason Swann dished five assists.
Illinois State commit Elijah Clarence led Washington County with 22 points and five rebounds.
When asked if Saturday night was it, Cooper, like years in the past, still wasn’t sure.
“You know, I don’t know,” he said. “I just don’t know.”
Who knows if there is a dead-end to Cooper’s coaching career. But one thing is certain: The impact he’s left on Frederick County has no expiration date.
“He’s not about the fanciness,” Sappington said. “He wants you to do what you’re supposed to do. If you’re a big man, he wants you to rebound, post up, all that. And in life, he wants you to do great, whatever you want to do. He focuses on the main things. That’s just him.”