Former NBA star Michael Cooper returns to the Rez
By Lailani Upham
After a few minutes into the drills Cooper demonstrates the proper stance. (Lailani Upham photo)
PABLO — Nearly 75 youngsters from five different states participated in the first annual “Michael Cooper Basketball Camp” at Salish Kootenai College last week, according to camp organizer, Monty Marengo.
Campers from Alaska, Illinois, North Carolina, Arizona and Montana absorbed the wisdom of former Los Angeles Laker Michael Cooper at the three-day camp.
Students listen in their own way as Cooper gives a motivational talk before lunch beak and after a full morning of drills. (Lailani Upham photo)
Cooper became an integral part of the Showtime Lakers teams of the 1980s with his defensive skills. In basketball, Showtime was an era in Los Angeles Lakers history when the National Basketball Association team played an exciting run-and-gun style of basketball led by Magic Johnson’s passing and Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s scoring. The team relied on fast breaks and won five NBA championships.
Cooper won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1987. He, along with the famed Kareem and Magic Johnson, was a member of five Lakers championship teams in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988.
Following his playing career Cooper went on to serve as Special Assistant to Lakers’ general manger Jerry West. Then three years later joined the Lakers’ coaching staff in March 1994. He became assistant coach of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks in 1999. After his WNBA career, Cooper went on to serve as head coach for the University of Southern California’s Women of Troy
Basketball team. He retired this year.
Campers start the first day out with a round of pushups. (Lailani Upham photo)
According to Laker record, one of the most important components of Showtime was the Lakers’ fast break. In a typical sequence, rebounders Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kurt Rambis, and A.C. Green would quickly release an outlet pass to Johnson, who then race down the court and deliver the ball to players, Jamaal Wilkes, James Worthy, Byron Scott, and Michael Cooper for a finishing layup or slam dunk.
Josh Stevens, 11, of Kalispell reaches for the ball during the lay up drills. Stevens, a huge fan of Michael Cooper, was the first to sign up for the camp and counted down the days to see his hero. (Lailani Upham photo)
Many kids today might not know Michael Cooper’s glory days or the rest of the team, but eleven-year-old Josh Stevens from Kalispell knows all the stats and achievements of the old from decades before he was born.
“He is obsessed with Michael Cooper. I’m surprised if doesn’t know his collection of jerseys, figures and records all the games shoe size,” said his mother Michele Stevens with a chuckle. “He has started a collection of the starting line up ever since he was six years old.”
Little campers with large determination hang in there with the non-stop drills. (Lailani Upham photo)
All the young boy wants to do is play basketball said his mother. His first response when he saw Cooper was a speechless gaze his mother said. His mother said he got her up early that morning and they were the first ones at the gym. He didn’t let her slack for moment she said.
Stevens is a Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal member.
(L to R): Reese Nissen, Bigfork; Siliyi Pete, Ronan; Maggie Todd, Polson; Rosa Dolson, Hot Springs and Michael Cooper; Jaden Dillon, Bigfork; Steffan Walks Over Ice, Billings; Nathan Dennis, Ronan; and, Zonan LaFromboise of St. Ignatius. (Courtesy photo)
Cooper’s instilled his answer to success on and off the court each day of the camp. It is what he calls “The Five D’s:” determination, dedication,
desire, discipline, and decision-making.
Cooper says he would like to see the camp become an annual event. “My season is changing and I want to reaffirm my commitments. I want to always come back. I don’t want to just do a camp and then leave.”
Aaron Fisher of Arlee is named Best Defensive Player. (Courtesy photo)
Next year the camp will be held from June 24 – 27 at SKC and will be open again to boys and girls from grades 2 to 12. Marengo says the camp will include the four-day camp, three nights stay at KwaTaqNuk Resort, breakfast everyday and supervision night watch at $255.
For more information call Monty Marengo at (406) 212-1699 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.