Thomas Cooper is a 196cm guard from Chattanooga, Tennessee that will be starting his professional basketball career with the Uni Baskets Paderborn in Germany. He bounced around in his first two college years in North Carolina, California and Nebraska before finding a home with the University of Calgary (Canada-CIS) and as a junior played 27 games averaging 25.7ppg, 7.5rpg, 3.0apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 43.4%, 3PT: 36.9%, FT: 81.0%. In jis senior year at the University of Calgary (Canada-CIS) he played 26 games averaging 22.9ppg, 7.7rpg, 3.2apg, 1.6spg, FGP: 48.2%, 3PT: 32.6%, FT: 75.1%: He spoke to German Hoops about Basketball.
Thomas thanks for talking to German Hoops. Where are you at the moment and how have you been enjoying your summer?
Thanks for having me. Right now, I am still in Calgary just training and enjoying the time with the people who helped me grow here. I’ve been coaching and training and just enjoying every day with my teammates and friends.
Congrats on signing with German pro A team Uni-Baskets Paderborn. After coming from the CIS where you averaged 24,0ppg in your last two seasons, did you find a lot of interest from teams and were you on the radar of teams in Europe?
Thank you. I think there were a good amount of teams that were interested and some that blew me off as well. I’m happy to be playing where I will be playing
How thankful are you about being able to call yourself a professional basketball player? There was a time three a half years ago where you were fed up with basketball and stopped. Are you a very good example that even when it looks most bleak, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel?
I’m more thankful than anyone can imagine mainly because of the adversity I went through to get to the position that I am in. I’m an example of a person who would not accept failure no matter what cards life dealt me.
What were the main reason for choosing to sign with the Uni-Baskets Paderborn. Did your talks with head coach Uli Naechster convince you that this club was the right fit to start your professional career?
Yes. Coach Uli is young and charismatic but also very clever. I think he has a vision for the game that will allow me to be myself within the system of our team. I could tell that he truly wanted me to be a part of his team.
What do you know in general about the country Germany and it´s basketball. Did your teammate at Calgary Lars Schleuter give you the lowdown on his country and it´s basketball the last two seasons?
I know a lot about the basketball in Germany. Lars played a big part in that because he knows how everything works so he’s given me his insight. De’Mon Brooks from Medi Bayreuth is also a close friend and former teammate of mines as well so I picked his brain about the basketball in Germany as well.
You’re a scoring machine. To what NBA player would you compare your game to and what other strength do you possess besides just being a scorer and durable rebounder?
Honestly, I have no idea. I study and take things from a ton of guys. Harden, Steph, Lillard, Lebron, Klay, KD are some guys I study to name a few. I think I’m an underrated passer but I like that people sleep on that skill of mine because it makes my life even easier on offense.
You are a guy that can fill up the stat sheet nicely, but what do you feel is a hidden strength in your game that doesn´t get noticed right away on the court?
I think my defense has improved year after year and I’ve become a reliable defender who can guard multiple positions. I think my defense is overlooked because of how good I score the basketball.
You were a well traveled young man before settling at the University of Calgary playing ball in North Carolina, California and Nebraska. How often did you ask yourself when is my bad luck and timing with basketball going to end and when will I finally get the right fit?
I went through some dark days just because I kept running into bad situations and I felt that basketball was fading away from my life. Ultimately, I stuck with it and now, here we are.
You stated that in your time playing in the NCAA “We played these huge schools and played these NBA players and it was a great experience”. What future NBA player do you remember impressing you the most?
Kenneth Faried was probably the freakiest athlete I had seen during my Division 1 days but Chandler Parsons has to be the most impressive that I remember playing against. He was 6’9 and could do it all. I knew he would be a good player in the NBA before he even started blowing up.
You took a year off from basketball and trained in California. This was a very difficult time for you, but when you look back now, what do you believe helped you most in this time to get your thoughts straight again and get back to wanting to play competitively again and finding that right fit?
I think still being around a lot of basketball helped me keep my faith. I was working at Niketown in San Francisco and would see NBA guys come in the store all the time. Also my trainer Devin Williams was right there pushing me and working with me as well. He’s now really successful with his brand, In the Lab. He deserves more credit from me than he knows.
What saved you from ending your love for basketball? How vital was head coach Dan Vanhooren for helping you make the next step to Canada? Why do you feel that he never gave up on you even after being short a credit the first time?
I just could not live with the thought of my career ending the way it could have. It kept me up so many nights. Dan is like my second dad. I still have no idea why he stuck with me and gave me a chance after failing in multiple programs but it paid off for him, me, and the basketball program at Calgary.
Going from the United States to Canada is a very untypical move for an American. Do you feel like the CIS fit your game better than the NCAA?
I think I could have been successful in either. The two NCAA programs that I were a part of just didn’t give me the chance to prove that so I never felt like I wasn’t good enough to compete. But the CIS did help me prepare for FIBA basketball better than the NCAA did.
You played two superb seasons at the University of Calgary averaging 25,7ppg and 22,9ppg. Did it at times feel like you were a man playing with kids?
Not really. I felt like I did what I was supposed to do at this level. I rarely had actual one on one situations, so I still had to find a way to go out and put up numbers every night against double teams and different defensive looks. In the CIS we played the same team two nights in a row every weekend so it’s not as easy as people think it is to dominate games.
In 2016 and 2017 you were a CIS finalist and quarterfinalist losing both times to CIS powerhouse Carleton. When you look back at this opponent what annoyed you most about their seemingly immaculate record?
Nothing, I’m not annoyed by them at all. Their program is 10 times more advanced than any program in the CIS to be honest. Carleton’s program is run like a Division I program. I think they prepare well by playing the toughest schedule in the CIS every year and they deserve everything they have earned because of it.
Your stats were in scoring, rebounds and assists didn´t change much in your two seasons except that your averaged 3,0 points more as a junior. Still how do you feel did your game develop further from day one in 2015 to the last game in 2017 against Manitoba?
I could have averaged 30 points a game my senior year in my mind. But I chose to sacrifice my scoring for the sake of the team. As a Junior, the offense got stagnant sometimes because I was attacking so much. Because of my sacrifice, my teammates were able to grow more and I still had much success while seeing my shooting percentage go up as well.
How did head coach Dan Vanhooren groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career at the University of Calgary?
The best advice any coach has ever given me has come from Dan and it’s simple. “Thomas, Know Yourself.” His message was always no matter how any game is going, know that I’m the best player on the court and only I can stop myself from being that. So the only person that could stop me from being the best is myself.
Who won a one on one in practice last season you or Mambi Diawara?
We’ve never played one on one actually. But my mentality is that I’m the best one on one player that I know.
How does a normal summer work out day look like for you on and off the court and what are the main things you will be working on in your game?
Basketball is my life. I watch film every single day. I lift weights 3-4 times a week. I individually train with my assistant coach at Calgary multiple times a week. I also play with my teammates here as well as other collegiate players and professionals who spend their off seasons in Calgary. When I’m not doing any of that, I’m daydreaming about starting my professional career.
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you chose?
MJ would be at the front any day of the week. Lebron and Kobe would be there as well. The fourth person would probably have to be Bill Russell. Mainly because I value winning more than anything and he has 11 rings.
Lebron James failed to win his fourth NBA title and has three to Michael Jordan. There are so many experts that keep proclaiming that Lebron is the best of all-time. Where do you rate him in the neverending debate about who the best of all-time is?
I don’t think Lebron will never top Jordan to me just because of the way all of his success happened. He’s second to me. I love Lebron though. He’s my favorite player to watch today because he’s the most complete basketball player the game has ever seen. But Jordan stayed with the same organization and built it from the ground up and he was perfect in the finals. He gave his team that same killer instinct he had. I always tell people if you want to know how good Jordan is, look at how many people still fight and literally kill each other over his shoe releases today, 15 years later.
There has been criticism of Russell Westbrook to be focusing more on rebounding to help inflate his stats and possibilities of getting triple doubles instead of focusing on his defensive assignments. Do you feel that this is a fair assessment to the player Russell Westbrook?
Not really. One thing you can’t deny is work ethic and that dude plays hard every single second of the game.
How do you summarize the 2017 NBA Draft. What sleepers do you see playing a role in the NBA?
I think it was decent. The best player in the draft in my opinion is Josh Jackson. I think he can just do so many different things on both ends of the court.
What was the last movie that you saw?
I think it was Get Out.
Thanks Thomas for the chat