Auburn’s Sharife Cooper entering 2021 NBA Draft
The freshman phenom played just 12 games with the Tigers, but dazzled fans every week.
AUBURN, Ala. (WSFA) - Auburn’s first-year sensation has left the building.
Star point guard Sharife Cooper announced on social media Friday he will be taking his talents to the NBA.
“It was a tough decision, a hard decision, but with that being said, I would like to declare for the 2021 NBA Draft and hire an agent,” said Cooper in a press release from Auburn. “I’m forever grateful to be a part of the Auburn Family. If I had to make the decision a million more times, I’d pick Auburn every time. War Eagle.”
In addition to thanking his God and his family, Cooper shared his thanks with the people who brought him to the Plains.
“To the Auburn staff - Coach Pearl, Coach Bowman, Coach Flanigan, Coach Steven Pearl, Coach Davis and the rest of the staff - they’ve helped me tremendously just getting better, getting stronger and becoming a better player and a better version of myself on the court and off the court. To know in the back of your head that Auburn has your back is a feeling that I can’t explain,” he said.
“We’re very excited for Sharife,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “While he may have signed his National Letter of Intent in November of 2019 and only played in 12 games, he was an Auburn Tiger way before that. Players that came before him like Isaac Okoro, Devan Cambridge and Babatunde Akingbola knew full well that Sharife wanted to follow in the footsteps of some of our great point guards.”
Cooper was quite the player for Auburn this season, and he didn’t even play the full year. Because of an NCAA eligibility investigation, he was kept out of Auburn Arena for the first 11 games of the season, missing 72 practices before finally being cleared to suit up on January 9. That game happened to be against rival Alabama.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard,” Cooper said after that game. “It was definitely hard mentally, physically, emotionally, but you know I made up my mind and told [Auburn] I won’t break. Even through the ups and downs through the trials and tribulations ,I always just told myself I won’t let it bring me down, so I think that’s what kinda got me through it as well as my family, my coaches, all my support staff and fans.”
Although the Tide went on to win 94-90, all eyes were on Cooper. In his college debut, the freshman nearly earned a double-double, dropping 26 points, 9 assists and 3 steals.
“His character and his hard work clearly shined through his lone season with us,” said Pearl. “After missing 72 days of practice, he started his first game against Alabama and put up 26 points and nine assists to help us take the would-be SEC champions down to the wire. He is a once in a generation point guard who has an uncanny ability to score and help others score. I’m proud of him, and he’ll always be an Auburn Tiger.”
From then on, everyone was talking about Sharife Cooper. The Powder Springs, GA native scored or assisted on 471 of Auburn’s 996 total point this season when in the lineup (47.3 percent). In just 12 games, he averaged 20.2 points per contest, and is one of just seven players in the country to average 20 points and eight assists per game in the last 25 years, joining recent players such as Ja Morant (Murray State) and Trae Young (Oklahoma).
Cooper also averaged 8.1 assists per game, which set a single-season record for most in program history, and broke the record of 6.7 set by current assistant coach Wes Flanigan. Cooper is one of just two Auburn players to have three point-assist double-doubles since the assist became an official statistic in the NCAA back in the 1983-1984 season.
The freshman went on earn Southeastern Conference honors, including a spot on the All-Freshman team.
A consensus 5-star and top-20 prospect out of McEachern High School, Cooper was selected as a Sports Illustrated First Team All-American and was named the 2018-2019 USA Today National Player of the year after leading his high school to a perfect 32-0 record and a state title his junior year.
When he was signed, he was the highest rated signee ever to come to Auburn, and was the third McDonald’s All-American to join the Tigers’ basketball team, joining Frank Ford (1983) and Korvotney Barber (2005).
“This past year has been nothing short of special - one of the best years of my life coming here to Auburn and being embraced by something that’s bigger than me,” said Cooper. “It’s hard to imagine what it was like when I was in high school when I wasn’t here yet, but I always couldn’t wait to get here. Being here and being embraced by Auburn and the community is something that I’ll live with forever. Through thick and thin, Auburn and my family have had my back, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. In times like this, I like to reminisce and just thank the people that have been there since the beginning.”
Cooper is now the second Auburn player to declare for the draft. Freshman forward JT Thor has also declared.
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