Basketball Hall of Famer Cynthia Cooper, who as a player helped lead USC to a pair of NCAA championships before winning an Olympic gold medal and four WNBA titles and then as a head coach resurrected three collegiate programs, was named head coach of the USC women's basketball program, Trojan athletic director Pat Haden announced on April 11, 2013. Cooper now enters her third season as head coach at USC, holding a 37-28 record with the Women of Troy after two seasons of work.
The impact she made in her return to Troy was immediate. In her first season, the Trojans got out to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1998. Soon after, USC posted its first win over a ranked opponent since 2011. And the historic efforts just kept coming for Cooper and her Women of Troy. The No. 5 seed in the 2014 Pac-12 Tournament, USC turned heads by not just becoming the first team to play four straight games in the tourney, the Trojans finished it out with four straight victories. Along the way, USC upset perennial champion Stanford in the semifinals before claiming its first-ever Pac-12 Tournament Championship with a win over Oregon State in the final. That effort secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. USC would ship off to Tennessee as a No. 9 seed, falling in the last seconds of the First Round to finish out a 22-13 overall record on the year.
It was a powerful turnaround for the Trojan program, which went 11-20 overall and 7-11 in Pac-12 play the previous season.
"In Cynthia Cooper, we have a proven winning coach who happens to be a USC basketball icon," Haden said. "She was a part of the best basketball ever played here at USC, and she has seen success at so many levels of the game. As a coach she has turned around several programs. We believe she can lead USC back to successful women's basketball, and we welcome her back to the USC campus."
Cooper, 51, has 10-year collegiate head coaching record of 187-134 (.583), with eight post-season appearances and three league Coach of the Year honors. The run to the 2014 NCAA Tournament with the Trojans was Cooper's fourth visit as a head coach.
Cooper took over a tradition-rich USC program that is among the nation's elite. The Women of Troy have appeared in four Final Fours, winning twice, and produced such icons as Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie, the McGee twins, Tina Thompson and Cooper herself.
Cooper was the head coach at Texas Southern in 2013 and guided the Lady Tigers--who were 5-26 the previous year--to their first-ever Southwestern Athletic Conference regular season championship with a 16-2 league mark (14 more league wins than in 2012). TSU advanced to the SWAC Tournament's semifinals (as the tourney's No. 1 seed, a first in program history) and earned its first-ever WNIT berth. At 20-12 overall, the Lady Tigers set school records for season victories (20) and consecutive wins (15).
She spent the previous two seasons (2011-12) as the head coach at UNC Wilmington. Inheriting a Seahawks team that was 12-19 the prior season (and just 6-12 in league play), her debut 2011 squad notched a school record for victories with a 24-9 overall mark (14-4 for second place in the Colonial Athletic Association), won 11 consecutive home games, got to the semifinals of the CAA Tournament and advanced to the second round of the WNIT in the school's first-ever post-season appearance. She was the 2011 CAA Coach of the Year. Then in 2012, UNCW posted its second consecutive 20-win season (20-13) for the first time in school history, made it to the CAA tourney semis again after going 11-7 in the league and was a WNIT participant.
Cooper began her college coaching career at Prairie View A&M, a program that had never had a winning season. She posted an 86-72 record with four post-season appearances during her five-year (2006-10) tenure there. After going 7-21 overall (6-12 in the SWAC) in 2006, she guided her second team in 2007 to the program's first winning campaign (19-14), its first SWAC regular season title (at 14-4), its first SWAC Tournament crown and its first NCAA Tournament berth, as she was named SWAC Coach of the Year. The Lady Panthers repeated as SWAC regular season champs in 2008 with a 15-3 league mark and finished at 22-12 with a trip to the WNIT. Prairie View won its third consecutive SWAC regular season title in 2009 (going 17-1), and also won the SWAC tourney title and played in the NCAA Tournament as she again was the SWAC Coach of the Year while her team had a 23-11 record. The Lady Panthers were 15-14 in 2010 (12-6 in for second in league play) and were a WNIT participant.
Cooper was able to have such success at Prairie View, like Texas Southern a historically black college that faces financial and recruiting hurdles, despite having to endure NCAA sanctions her last 2 years that included scholarship reductions and probation. The program was penalized for violations that occurred during Cooper' first season, but the NCAA said those violations were the result of the school's failure to educate her about NCAA rules.
One of the world's greatest and most decorated women's basketball players, Cooper was the 1981 L.A. City Player of the Year at Locke High in Los Angeles while averaging 31 points a game and leading her team to the California State 4A championship. She also was on Locke's track team.
She then starred as a 5-10 guard for USC's 1983 and 1984 NCAA Championship teams. A four-time letterwinner (1982-84, 86), as a senior in 1986 she was named an All-Conference first teamer and made the NCAA All-Tournament team as the Women of Troy made it to the NCAA Final. She averaged 12.9 points, 3.1 assists and 2.1 steals during her career as USC won 114 of 129 games. She currently ranks ninth on USC's all-time scoring list (1,559 points), eighth in assists (381) and third in steals (256).
Cooper began her pro career in Europe for Spain's Samoa Betera (1986-87) and Italy's Parma (1987-94) and Alcamo (1994-96) teams. She led the league in scoring once (36.7 average) with Samoa Betera and eight times in Italy. She was the MVP of the European All-Star team in 1987 and was named to the All-Star team of the Italian leagues in 1996 and 1997.
During that time, Cooper collected five medals while representing the United States in international play. She won a gold medal at the 1987 Pan American Games, a gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, golds at the 1986 and 1990 FIBA World Championships and a bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
She returned to the United States in 1997 at the age of 34 to play with the Houston Comets of the newly-formed WNBA. She led the Comets to a record four consecutive WNBA championships (1997-2000), being named WNBA Finals MVP each time. She was the league's MVP in 1997 and 1998 and was a two-time WNBA All-Star (1999-2000) before retiring in 2000. She led the league in scoring three consecutive years. She became the first WNBA player to hit the 500-, 1,000-, 2,000- and 2,500-point career scoring plateaus. She scored at least 30 points 16 times and had a 92-game double figure scoring streak.
She moved into the coaching ranks in 2001 as the head coach of the Phoenix Mercury and spent that season and the first half of the 2002 season there, going 19-23 overall, before returning to the Comets' 2003 playing roster until an early injury curtailed her season and led to her retirement. She earned her third WNBA All-Star honor in 2003 and, at 40, was the oldest player to play in a WNBA game at that time. She finished as Houston's all-time leader in scoring (2,601 points), free throw percentage (.871) and assists (602). She averaged 21.2 points per game in her career.
Cooper was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999, the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 (the first WNBA player enshrined). She was the Women's Sports Foundation's 1998 Sportswoman of the Year. In 2011, she was voted by fans as one of the Top 15 players in WNBA history. Cooper was born on April 14, 1963, in Chicago, Ill., but grew up in Los Angeles as one of eight children. She speaks Italian fluently. She earned her bachelor's degree from Prairie View A&M.
She and her husband, Brian Dyke, who is a sports agent, have 11-year-old twins, son, Brian Jr., and daughter, Cyan. In 2000, Cooper published her autobiography, "She Got Game: My Personal Odyssey," chronicling her childhood, her basketball career and her mother's battle with breast cancer.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT CYNTHIA COOPER-DYKE
"Some people, when they hire a coach, the athletic department hits a home run. Southern California has hit a grand slam, with two out and down three with the bases loaded. They hit it out of the park. This is one of the greatest hires. She's the perfect fit. She's the hardest working person I've ever been around. She's a recruiting machine and she loves Southern California. As a player she had the most tenacity, she was gritty, hard-nosed and hard-working. And she possesses the same characteristics as a coach as she did as a player. They better tie up their shoe laces in Southern California and tie them up now!" -- Van Chancellor, former Houston Comets head coach
"It's obvious that she's going to be an outstanding coach. She'll make a splash on the national stage. I've had the opportunity to play against her and it's obvious that she's knowledgeable and she knows what she wants to do. She's a great coach. Her teams play hard and with purpose. She was clearly a great competitor herself. When it comes to USC, that's her heart. I can think of no better representative than her. She's a wonderful person and a great ambassador for the sport. She has the great respect of coaches across the country. She has given so much of herself to the game, she won't be satisfied with anything less than the best. She'll put out a product that USC can be proud of. I'm very excited for her." -- C. Vivian Stringer, Rutgers head coach
"Cynthia came back from playing overseas and joined a WNBA team that nobody had any expectations of, after Sheryl Swoopes missed most of the season. But Coop led that team to the first of four straight championships. She won the first two MVP awards in WNBA history. She set the tone: the first to practice and the last one to leave. As a teammate and coach she's an incredible motivator. You'd run through a wall for her. Coop is extremely humble but she gets very fired up. She is a strong woman and never has a defeatist attitude. She'll be a great teacher for the Trojans, in terms of knowing how to put things in perspective and channeling that in a positive way on the court. She's worked with women at every level, and she's a winner on and off the court." -- Hannah Storm, ESPN SportsCenter anchor
"I absolutely enjoyed playing with Cynthia Cooper. She is the ultimate winner. She has an incredibly work ethic and a deep passion for being the best in whatever she does. When I think about her, I think about passion, desire, and a work ethic to be a winner. " -- Coquese Washington, former Houston Comets teammate
"Few basketball players have matched Cynthia's accomplishments on the court, and her successes with the Houston Comets will go down as among the most exciting moments in WNBA history. She will bring experience, passion, stature and a complete understanding of the game to her coaching duties at USC, and Trojan fans should consider themselves very lucky to have her back in the fold." -- Val Ackerman, WNBA founding president
"She definitely has been an inspiration to my life on and off the court. She came to UNCW in my last year of playing and helped me become the all-time steals leader at UNCW. It was simple things, like jumping passing lanes. I got more steals because we focused on defense, and that defense created our offense. In her first year we made the WNIT for the first time ever. I found myself working harder just because of who was in front of me. It was motivating. It's hard not to give your all when you play for someone like that. Her energy and positivity on and off the court fed me and my teammates. She's been a listening ear when I needed her. There aren't words to describe the type of person she is. She has a passion for the game and for her student-athletes." --Brittany Blackwell, former UNC Wilmington player
"One thing for sure she's really passionate about the game and the players. From the outside looking in, she's hard and she's in your face, but it's about positive reinforcement. It's really motivating. You want to do your best, but you need someone to bring it out of you and give you that extra push. All four years, our game developed so much every year. She took the time and taught us. She gave us a better basketball IQ and understanding. The way she had us work, she helped us create a strong work ethic and it was followed by victories. PVAMU hadn't won more than maybe eight games in a season and we had four straight winning seasons while I was there. Under anyone else's coaching we couldn't have done that. I really appreciated her as a coach." -- Gaati Werema, former Prairie View A&M player
"It is very exciting to see Cynthia Cooper return to USC as the head coach for women's basketball. Cynthia brings a wealth of experience as a player and coach as well as an unmatched spirit and passion for the game. I look forward to the next few years under coach Cooper, as USC women's basketball -- once again -- becomes a national championship program." -- Barbara Hedges, former USC Senior Women's Administrator
YEAR-BY-YEAR WITH CYNTHIA COOPER-DYKE
Prairie View A&M
6-21/8th tie SWAC
Prairie View A&M
Prairie View A&M
Prairie View A&M
Prairie View A&M
11-7/4th tie CAA
11-7/4th tie Pac-12**
*League Coach of the Year **League Tournament Champion