Q+A: Cynthia Cooper

by Christian Mordi / @mordi_thecomeup

Cynthia Cooper’s journey in the basketball realm is far from over. After an extensive career in Spain and Italy, the electric wing dominated the WNBA in its early seasons. Cooper was a league MVP and key catalyst in four championships for the Houston Comets in the league’s first dynasty.

Back at the familiar surroundings of USC, the L.A. native is beginning a new venture as the head coach of her alma mater. SLAMonline sat down with the Hall of Famer to discuss her playing career at USC, the possibility of a new book, why she came back to coach and more.

SLAM: You played with Cheryl Miller and the McGee twins, who were All-Americans during your tenure at USC. You guys were 114-15 in your college career. Could one argue that some of those teams were some of the best in women’s college basketball ever?

Cynthia Cooper: Yeah, I think the McGee twins and Cheryl Miller and myself were some of the best teams ever. A lot of people don’t know but I actually came off the bench on one of those teams. I would say we were one of the best ever.

SLAM: You played ball in Spain, Italy as well as the WNBA. You see now more often than when you played in the league players are sitting out the WNBA season to rest. Why do you think this is a trend now, and is there any way the WNBA can protect themselves from this?

CC: I don’t think the league can protect themselves from players sitting out, and I don’t think it’s a money thing in regards to the players either. When I played we didn’t have two leagues, but these players are putting a lot of pressure on their bodies playing year-round. We are talking a lot of games on your legs. The WNBA is special because it’s very physical and hosts some of the best athletes. I don’t think the WNBA can do much, but I can understand a player that has played an eight-month season overseas and tired when it comes to the summer for the WNBA. I am not saying I agree with the format, I actually feel it should be flip-flopped, because I feel the WNBA deserves the top players to promote women’s basketball here in America as much as possible.

SLAM: So you feel they should expand the season some?

CC: Well it all has to work. I think now they have found a window to promote women’s basketball here in America and I think they have to stay true to it. Here we have the NBA, and after that you have football and baseball. You have to be careful with change. I think we need to just continue to promote. One thing I would add to what the WNBA is doing is marketing. When we first came to the WNBA we had Nike, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s and all of these great commercials. We were everywhere. I think we need to get back to that marketing.

SLAM: In 2000, you published an autobiography entitled She Got Game: My Personal Odyssey, which covered your childhood and basketball career. Do you think beginning this new journey, there will be much more to add to your story and possibly another book?

CC: I think there could be another book for sure. There is always something to add to a story. I could definitely see another book in my future.

SLAM: The Women’s Sports Foundation named you the 1998 Sportswoman of the Year. How important was that accomplishment to you and are you looking to achieve that with coaching now as well?

CC: I don’t put limitations on myself and I want to reach high with my coaching. With coaching you just have to be patient and work at it. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I want to achieve every goal that I have with this team. It starts with getting into the NCAA Tournament, you have to get there to fight for a national title. We will take things one step at a time.

SLAM: You coached at Prairie View A&M as well as UNC Wilmington to start your coaching career. 
 What did you learn during your time with these mid-major programs, that you feel will be a great strength for you at USC?

CC: I learned that players have to be taught. Some may think they know everything, but they actually want to be taught and want to get better every year. I learned to be patient. Not everyone gets everything right the first time. I have learned everyone has one thing in common when playing Division I basketball, and that’s you want to win. Many players are willing to do whatever it takes and learn whatever they need to learn to win.

SLAM :Why did you decide to head back to USC?

CC: I can use the cliché I have gone full circle. What many people don’t know is that I truly love this university. This university put me in a position to be successful for the rest of my life. I grew up at SC and I learned a lot here. The administration and coaches wrapped their arms around me while I was here. I want to repay that and give it back. For me to be back here is amazing and dream come true. I have the chance to develop a player and help them grow like Linda Sharp helped me.

SLAM: How do you gauge success?

CC: By wins and losses. You don’t have to win every game to be successful, though. It starts with have the mentality of a champion. When you confront any obstacle, what can hold you back? Failure is not an option if you put in the hard work. You achieve whatever you want.