No. 3 prospect, No. 1 worker
A recent 9 p.m. phone call to the Cooper household found 16-year-old Te'a Cooper fast asleep -- and with good reason.
From Monday through Thursday, Cooper, a 5-foot-8 junior point guard at McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.), wakes up at 6 a.m. so she can get a 45-minute workout in before school, practicing her ballhandling and her jumper in the backyard.
After school, it's basketball practice from 3:45 to 5 p.m., followed by one hour of weightlifting, an hour of strength, speed and conditioning, and 90 minutes of individual basketball drills.
On Fridays, she works only on free throw shooting before taking Saturdays off and playing pickup games on Sundays in an open-gym setting.
It's a pace that has impressed the likes of Diamond DeShields, a 6-2 freshman wing at the University of North Carolina and one of Cooper's best friends.
"I've learned a lot about working hard from watching her -- and she's younger than I am," said DeShields, one of the most decorated incoming freshmen in the nation. "I've seen her work out four times a day. She's helped me develop mental strength and helped me push through things."
Cooper works out so hard that sometimes the stories about her training sessions seem to be more mythical than factual.
"Te'a just works harder than the normal player," said McEachern coach Phyllis Arthur, who insisted that her star player has workout days that total six to eight hours. Sometimes, she said, Cooper wakes up at 1 a.m. just to train.
Bring it on
Cooper, who committed to UNC in eighth grade, is expected to join DeShields on the Tar Heels in 2015.
The Heels' current crop of freshmen is ranked No. 1 in the nation and features Georgians DeShields and 5-10 shooting guard Allisha Gray, the No. 7 prospect in the 2013 class.
Cooper, the No. 3 prospect in the 2015 class, does not appear to be intimidated by anyone. Asked if she thinks the transition from high school to college will be a daunting challenge, Cooper yawned -- metaphorically at least.
"I don't expect it to be that difficult," she said.
Cooper wasn't bragging, but she quietly made it clear that she didn't follow those top talents to UNC -- she committed first. More than three years ago.
And she isn't bothered by potentially having to beat out Washington, a player she has competed against on the AAU circuit.
"I'm pretty sure," Cooper said, "[the UNC coaches] are going to give the job to whoever works the hardest."
Doing her part
If that's the case, Cooper will be in great shape. After all, she is accustomed to outworking pretty much everyone and earning big roles on talented teams.
As a freshman, she started immediately, helping McEachern win a state title with a 33-0 record.
That team, which finished the season ranked second nationally, featured five other players -- including four seniors -- who had committed to major Division I schools.
I've learned a lot about working hard from watching her -- and she's younger than I am.UNC freshman Diamond DeShields
Yet Cooper, as usual, was not fazed.
She averaged 11.2 points, 4.7 assists and 3.0 steals while shooting 65 percent from the field.
As a sophomore last season, she averaged 18.5 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 steals. But her team got knocked out early in the playoff chase.
Arthur believes Te'a can lead McEachern back to a state title this season because of her talent and leadership.
The coach said Te'a is a "character," and DeShields said her friend loves to dance and crack jokes. Fittingly, Te'a wants to major in broadcasting.
People seem to gravitate toward Te'a, and even rival players have been known to ask for her headbands or other mementos of their encounters.
DeShields, for one, can't wait to play with her again.
"Te'a's arrival on [the UNC] campus will be extremely exciting," DeShields said. "It will be exciting for the coaches, the players and for me personally.
"Te'a is one of the most developed 16-year-olds around -- and that's not just genetics."