Just about everyone who follows basketball in Georgia knows just how talented Te’a Cooper is.
The senior McEachern point guard is a McDonald’s All-American, a U.S. junior national team player and a finalist for the Naismith Award as the country’s top player in the country. She’s also signed to play at Tennessee.
But even with a player of Cooper’s caliber running the point, many doubted McEachern’s chances of defending its state title after interior players Caliya Robinson and Zieandrea Bridges were both lost to season-ending injuries.
That left Cooper to run the floor with returning guard Jada Lewis and a crew of mostly inexperienced varsity players — a job that doesn’t come easy for any experienced point guard.
At times, the season was rough for McEachern. The Lady Indians lost to Region 4AAAAAA newcomer Osborne three times — including the region championship game — and other region teams also closed the gap on McEachern during the regular season.
But, somehow, the Lady Indians pulled it off. They put together five wins in the state playoffs to grab their third state title in four years.
There’s something to be said about Cooper’s leadership. She can get the best out of her teammates, including the ones who aren’t as experienced on the varsity level.
“We weren’t even supposed to be close to a state championship game,” said Cooper, the 2014-15 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Girls Basketball Player of the Year. “I still don’t know how we did it.”
It took Cooper raising her game to another level, and getting her younger teammates on the same page, and she did both quite effectively.
Having played varsity as a freshman, Cooper said she stressed the importance of “working hard.” When she stayed in the gym after practice, everyone else wanted to do the same. Cooper also encouraged her teammates to watch as much basketball as possible and learn the strengths and weaknesses of other teams.
As a result, McEachern got solid contributions from everyone during the postseason.
The Lady Indians survived Mountain View 68-62 in the quarterfinals, when Cooper nailed four straight free throws to seal it. Then, Cooper helped rally McEachern from 14 points down to beat Archer 59-57 in a game won on Cooper’s game-winning layup at the buzzer.
Cooper capped her McEachern career with 26 points in a 58-51 win over Norcross for the championship, then went on to score 21 points in an MVP performance at the McDonald’s All-American game.
Before McEachern’s postseason run, coach Phyllis Arthur had a one-on-one with her star player.
“I basically told her that the ball is in her court,” Arthur said. “This is her team. If she didn’t do her job, it would be hard to win. If she had an open shot, I want her to take it. This is her chance because, once she leaves, she can’t come back and do it all over again.”
Cooper is at her best when she’s either creating shots for herself or for her teammates, and that enabled her to finish the year with a team-best 27.3 points and 7.3 assists per game.
When looking back upon her high school career, it was the Archer win that stood out for Cooper.
Trailing 44-30 early in the fourth, the Lady Indians switched to a full-court press tailored to Cooper’s strengths, and they embarked on a 10-0 run.
Then came the season-saving layup, which had teammates mobbing her on the floor of Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion.
“We never gave up (against Archer),” Cooper said. “When everyone was counting us out, that only brought us closer together.”