There were balloons, posters, T-shirts, hats, friends, family, teammates, music, videos, television crews and even a dee-jay. When the glitter finally settled onto the ground, Cooper’s decision to attend Tennessee in the fall of 2015 was met with thunderous applause from the close to 100 people in attendance.
After decommitting from North Carolina in September, Cooper reopened her college search and chose the Lady Vols over North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Duke, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.
“I chose Tennessee because I just feel like they were everything I was looking for,” said Cooper, a 5-foot-8 point guard who was named the state’s Miss Basketball in March by the Georgia Sports Writers Association. “Through the coaching staff, through the team, through the university, the educational part all over to what I wanted to major in, I just felt like it was the team for me.”
Cooper had first committed to North Carolina as an eighth-grader, before she even played her first game for McEachern. But things had changed so much in the three years since that she wanted to reopen the recruiting process.
“The coaching staff has changed, and the players — everything has just changed, and I felt like I needed to give everybody else a chance and reopen my options and take more time in the process,” Cooper said.
Cooper took several college visits and got as much input in the process as possible before making her choice.
“I talked to my dad and talked to my friends,” she said. “I did a lot of talking, because I wanted to make the right decision, and I thought that everybody’s opinion would help. You learn from everybody, so I was just taking criticism from everybody and my opinions and their opinions and it was just learning.”
Considered the No. 12 overall player and sixth-best point guard in the class of 2015 according to ESPN’s girls basketball rankings, Cooper helped lead McEachern (29-2) to its second state championship in three years after totaling team highs in points (19.6), assists (5.8) and steals (4.4) per game.
“This is huge,” McEachern coach Phyllis Arthur said of Cooper’s commitment. “I told Te’a, she deserves this. She works so hard and she could play anywhere she wants to play. She made a conscious decision (Thursday), and I’m just so happy for her and for our program that she’ll be my first player to play for Tennessee.”
Also on hand for the event was a MTV video production crew that has been following Cooper since November. She will be part of an upcoming episode of the network’s longtime “True Life” series, based on the recruiting process.
The episode is scheduled to air this summer.
“What we loved about Te’a was that she was so open and down to earth,” said Niki Usbay, a producer for Triple Threat Television. “We fell in love with her through our first Skype video and since she hadn’t committed yet, we talked with her parents and set this up.
“She dictates our filming schedule as she goes through this process. We’ve followed her on campus visits, and we just try to an idea of what’s going on inside her head during it all.”
Cooper’s father, Omar, put together the commitment party without his daughter’s knowledge.
“I had no idea this was happening,” Te’a said. “My dad called me and asked if I was ready to commit, and I said, ‘I’m ready if you are.’ He said, we’re going to SkyZone, and I should tell everybody, but I didn’t expect all of this. It was great to see so many people be a part of this to support me.
“I’m so excited. It’s a great feeling. It’s not even a feeling you can describe. It’s just beautiful. I’m just excited for it to be over, and I finally just committed.”
Omar Cooper was just as excited as his daughter.
“I know coach Arthur is going to probably cry like a baby (knowing this will be Te’a’s last season), but I’m excited for (Te’a) and to see how she handles it,” he said. “She’s mature now, and for her to finally be the oldest person out there, when she’s so used to being the youngest, is going to be interesting to see.”