Cooper marks change in culture for Women of Troy

USC women’s basketball coach Michael Cooper did not hold any punches during his introductory press conference Tuesday, although he set his sights not on traditional rival UCLA, but an unusual foe.

“I’ll bet you we play better basketball than the Los Angeles Clippers and you go to quite a few games there,” Cooper told a reporter in attendance. “Oh yeah, you can write that down.”

It may have only been a joke, but the comment represented a significant change for the basketball program. Gone are the days when former coach Mark Trakh would refuse even to address injuries as one player after another went down. There is a new feel around the program now with Cooper, who brings not only a wealth of coaching and playing experience, but also a fresh attitude.

“They know I’m a little different coach and I have a sense of humor about me, but there’s going to be a work ethic about it,” he said.

And if you know anything about Cooper’s playing days as a lockdown defender for the Los Angeles Lakers, there will be a little defense too.

“I think one thing you can expect from this team is hard play every night,” he said. “Obviously we’re going to come with the defensive intensity and our offense will be opened up to where it’ll be exciting for the fans.”

One question that Cooper faced during his press conference was how he would handle coaching in a new environment, but the new coach did not seem too worried.

“Coaching is coaching no matter what level,” he said. “I’ve coached at many levels, even going back to coaching my son when he was six or seven years old.”

Cooper might not expect the transition from coaching professional basketball players to amateur athletes to be difficult, but he will have to overcome some hurdles.

He just finished his coaching obligation with the Los Angeles Sparks this fall and has had little time to spend with his new players. He has never had to recruit a player before. And his roster is full of talented but injury-prone players. None of the question marks surrounding the team have dampened Cooper’s enthusiasm, though.

“This is just another venture and another door that’s been opened for me and it’s one that I’m very, very lucky to have and one that I’m honored to have,” he said.

The players are equally excited to have the former Lakers great at the helm. Sophomore guard Briana Gilbreath said the players know a lot more about Cooper than people may think and are looking forward to learning from him.

“We’ve seen him play games even though we’re younger people,” she said. “We’ve seen him on the court, we’ve seen what he’s about and we know he’s had so much experience.”

Whether all of that experience translates to wins is yet to be seen, but the Women of Troy are clearly glad Cooper is here.