Dorothy was right when she said, “There’s no place like home.” DeVon Cooper of Waggener High School found this out when he returned home his senior season to write the final chapter of his high school basketball career.
After playing for Coach Bryan O’Neill Sr. at Waggener his freshman and sophomore year (both seasons he led the team in scoring – 14.4 and 17.2), Cooper got a one-way ticket to travel to the west coast to play at Findlay Prep, a private school in Henderson, Nevada, with the plan to remain there.
“I went out there because I wanted to take another step in academics and on the basketball court, and Findlay Prep is a big prep school. It was better basketball and we played better competition,” he says.
Once his junior season came to an end, he sat with his mother to reflect and recollect his thoughts, saying that two of them together made the decision to return home and finish off his senior year in Louisville.
That one-way ticket soon became a round-trip ticket, as the 6-foot-4 scoring machine guard crisscrossed the nation to finally settle where it all started for him.
Right before the first day of senior year, no one had any information on Cooper’s return except for his head coach. And it would turn out to be a pleasant surprise for everyone when they unexpectedly saw Cooper walk through the doors of Waggener High School. “Everybody was happy,” he relates. “People at school were happy, teachers and my teammates. I didn’t tell anybody – nobody knew I was coming back until the first day of school.”
Cooper says his goal wasn’t to create an element of surprise; rather, his focus was to get back on the hardwood to finish out his season with some of his close friends:
“I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I just wanted to come back and have a good year with the people I started with. I wanted to finish strong.”
Upon Cooper’s return, O’Neill says, “For him to be able to come back and be able to play with the guys that he started with was really special. He and Jacquess [Hobbs] are really good friends, so I think that was the most special thing for me to see. And then he and Ethan [Taylor] had been friends for a long time as well. So to have those three playing together in their senior year was pretty special.”
But it was a welcome home party that didn’t go as originally planned. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association ruled him illegible at the outset of the season because Cooper did not qualify for the exceptions under the KHSAA Bylaw 6, which requires athletes to sit out a calendar year after they have transferred.
Although delayed, it did not mean denial. Cooper would return January 20 in a home game versus Ballard, and it wouldn’t take long before he posted big number in the scoring column of his stat line. In the 12 games he played, he averaged 21.0 points, displaying once more his strengths on the offensive end of the floor and helping Waggener conclude their season with a 19-12 record.
“He steadily continued to develop each year from his freshman year on,” O’Neill adds. “You see a lot of growth in the kid and a lot of potential in the things that he can still work and improve on when he gets to the next level next year.
“He was able to come in and really be able to affect a lot of games this year. We had a really good team last year as well, but I think he helped add an element of scoring this year that maybe we didn’t have last year. He can really score the ball. He is a solid kid and I think he can be really special in college.”
Cooper is weighing his options of Ball State, Morehead State and Northern Kentucky, but he has yet to make a decision as to where he plans to play college ball. But in this season, his goal was to leave behind the legacy of competition and growth from freshman year to senior year both on and off the court.
O’Neill says having a player of Cooper’s caliber has been a recurring theme in the program that has worked to better shape it for the future:
“I think one of the things that’s special is that the last couple years, we have had some kids that have gone on to be a success at the collegiate level. He certainly falls in line with that. It helps your younger kids to understand they have that opportunity and they just need to keep working hard and they can reach that level as well. Ultimately, that is what we hope for as a program – that we are able to help mold kids and send them to college to have that opportunity.” VT