He has only played in five games this season, but Auburn guard Sharife Cooper is making a strong case as the top freshman in college basketball for the 2020-21 season.
Cooper, a five-star recruit in the class of 2020 and its No. 24 overall player, missed the Tigers’ first 12 games — and 78 practices — as the NCAA investigated his eligibility. He was declared eligible on Jan. 9, the same day Auburn played rival Alabama. Cooper suited up for the first time this season and, despite playing in a losing effort, immediately showed why he was a consensus top-25 player among recruiting boards.
Cooper shot 8 of 19 from the field (42.1 percent) for 26 points, adding nine assists, four rebounds and three steals in the loss. And he hasn’t slowed down since.
For the season, Cooper has averaged 22.5 points, 8.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He has scored in the double digits in all five contests, including three games in which he scored at least 25 points. He also has two double-doubles, against Georgia and South Carolina. Auburn is 3-2 since Cooper began playing.
Sharife Cooper’s first 5 college games:
vs. Alabama: 26 PTS, 9 AST, 4 REB
vs. Georgia: 28 PTS, 12 AST, 5 REB
vs. Kentucky: 11 PTS, 8 AST, 3 REB
vs. Arkansas: 25 PTS, 4 AST, 4 REB
vs. South Carolina: 16 PTS, 12 AST, 6 REB
— Overtime (@overtime) January 23, 2021
Cooper’s latest performance came in Saturday’s 109-86 win against the Gamecocks, against whom he shot 4 of 10 from the field (2 of 3 from 3-point range), earning 16 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. He had earned his double-double at halftime, dropping 10 points and 11 assists.
Auburn has nothing to play for in the way of postseason tournaments; the team announced a self-imposed postseason ban on Nov. 22 as part of bribery charges brought against former basketball assistant Chuck Person. Were it eligible, however, it’s possible Cooper could help lead the team (9-7, 3-5 SEC) back into NCAA Tournament contention.
Even so, the Tigers are still a team worth watching — if for no other reason than Cooper’s incredible play.