December brought a joyful celebration season for the Ohio State women’s basketball team, even before Christmas rolled around.
Dec. 22 marked the first time 6-foot-2 sophomore transfer Shayla Cooper took the court dressed in the scarlet and gray.
The 96-54 drubbing of West Virginia was a turning point in the season for OSU as Cooper became the root of much improvement to follow.
“We have gotten more tough rebounds and our post defense has been better since her addition,” coach Kevin McGuff said of Cooper. “She is a good player and has really helped us, that’s for sure.”
Cooper, who transferred from Georgetown, joined the Buckeyes last spring. NCAA regulations forced her to sit out the first 11 games this season before joining her new team on the court.
“When the season started this year, I was just more anxious to play,” Cooper said. “We had a countdown, every game, it was one less until I could play.”
Coming from a private Catholic school like Georgetown to a large public school like OSU has been a surprisingly easy transition for Cooper, she said, in large part because of her teammates, coaches and the great people she has met in Columbus.
“It’s more about the people,” Cooper said. “The people here are way nicer than back in D.C. and the environment is just different.”
Cooper attributed much of her success in making the transition to junior guard Ameryst Alston and the overall closeness of the Buckeye team.
“Ameryst and I have gotten really close,” Cooper said. “She was one of my hosts when I came to visit and I could tell from just interacting with her those first couple days that she would be someone I would get close to.
“We tend to laugh around all the time,” Cooper said of the team. “We get on each other and joke around a lot, but that is what makes it fun. It’s a fun, happy environment to be around.”
The transition on the court has been just as easy for Cooper as it has off the court. It has been her intimidation factor and aggressive play that has lifted the Buckeye defense since she became eligible, freshman guard Kelsey Mitchell said.
“When she is aggressive, it makes it easier for everybody else,” Mitchell said. “She is a dirty type of player, a trash talker. You are never going to find a person like that, let alone a player like that. I’m grateful and I’m glad to have her on the team.”
McGuff said it is Cooper’s aggressive nature that has allowed the team to get better defensively because she can match up with the bigger players OSU has faced.
“She gives us different options on how we want to play defensively,” McGuff said. “We put her on the bigger player because she is a little bigger and stronger and does a good job pushing opponents out of the paint.”
Although she’s not the biggest at her position, Alston said she believes it’s the intimidation factor that allows Cooper to have so much success down low.
“She is really strong, I think she intimidates a lot of players,” Alston said. “She is definitely someone we need.”
Cooper has solidified her spot as the sixth man for the Buckeyes and unlike most players who would rather be in the starting lineup, she said she has relished the opportunity.
“It’s fun,” Cooper said of her position in the OSU lineup. “My sophomore year of high school, I came off the bench, and then the next year I started. I am fine coming in as a sixth man and cleaning up everything and always knowing what I need to do.”
Since her addition, OSU has gone 14-5 and secured the third seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament.
Cooper said she believes she made the best choice of her career in coming to OSU and thinks this is just the beginning of her efforts to change the Buckeye program around.
“I thought this could be my second chance in having the opportunity to change a program around,” she said. “So far, so good. I am loving every minute of it.”