From Rocky Histories to High Potential Futures, Jones and Cooper Look to Make an Immediate Impact

259 days. 

That’s how long SUU went without basketball.

To put that number in perspective.

  • The NBA didn’t play for 141 days.
  • The average school year is 180 days.
  • The 4th of July is in 215 days.
  • The average length of a human pregnancy is 259 days.

There it is. You could have had a baby in the time it took SUU to play basketball again. 

A lot of things can happen in 259 days, especially in the life of a college athlete. Players can talk themselves in or out of the professional draft. Players can quit. Players can get injured. Players can transfer. 

To SUU’s advantage, 259 days was enough time to convince eight college basketball players to come to Cedar City and wear the red and black. 

For head coach Todd Simon, recruiting is serious business. He looks for players who want to come to SUU, have elite talent, and want to become better men.

“We look for guys who fit who we are,” said Simon. “High character individuals who do the right thing on and off the floor.”

The extended absence from college basketball allowed for enough time for junior forwards Courtese Cooper and Tevian Jones to enter the transfer pool.

Cooper, standing at 6’9”, struggled to see consistent minutes his sophomore year at LSU. While there, he only appeared in 11 games and averaged 1.1 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. LSU didn’t offer Cooper consistent minutes from the get-go. He redshirted during his first season in 2018-19, and only averaged 5.6 minutes per game in 2019-20.

LSU also didn’t have a defined role for Cooper. Even while he was wearing a Tigers jersey, the program pined for five-star recruit, Moussa Cisse (who eventually signed with the University of Memphis). It also didn’t help that LSU signed Shareef O’Neal (son of Shaquille O’Neal) and Bradley Ezewiro during the transfer period.

With no history of consistent minutes, and no clear cut future role for himself in the program, Cooper entered the transfer portal in mid-June.

Cooper reportedly committed to Florida International, but a mix up with his academic plans forced him to de-commit late in the game. When Cooper hit the transfer pool, he only had enough time to receive a few additional offers. 

“It came down to St. Peters, Hampton, or here,” Cooper said. “And here was the best chance for sure.”

The shoe fit. Cooper needed somewhere that would allow him to play his game and utilize his strengths. 

“The coaching staff lets the players play their game, and that’s what I like,” Cooper said. 

“Our style of play offers a lot of freedom,” said Simon. “We look for guys who fit that system, and [Courtese] is a great fit.”

Through two games, Cooper has captained the second unit defense. In practice, he regularly matches  up against senior center Ivan Madunic, and uses his length and athleticism to bother guards when they enter the paint.

“I’m looking to bring athleticism, versatility, and a whole lot of blocked shots,” said Cooper.

Cooper knows coming in as a transfer means he needs to earn minutes.

“I’m trying to screen well and roll hard. I’m athletic, so I need to do that well. I need to be better than the other guy.”

Cooper’s competitiveness also causes Simon’s eyes to sparkle. 

“He knows what it takes to win,” said Simon. “We look forward to working with him.”

Cooper shares a similar transfer path to Jones. 

Jones played his first two years of college ball at the University of Illinois, but most of his highlights, however, were confined to his freshman season. The crown-jewel of Jones’ young career was dropping 18 points against No. 13 ranked Maryland in Madison Square Garden in January 2019. 

Jones’ sophomore year, however, saw his minutes and games played drop significantly due to multiple suspensions. It became apparent soon after the NCAA season was cut short on March 11 that Jones wanted to wear a little less orange on game day. 

Three months later, Jones signed with SUU despite receiving interest from Arizona, Arizona State, Loyola Marymount, and Colorado State.

“SUU is closer to home,” said Jones. “I’m surrounded by a good group of guys, a good coaching staff, good players. I’m surrounded by the right atmosphere that I need to flourish.”

In the first two games, Jones has undoubtedly shown glimpses. Jones can rise up and shoot over the defenders with his long 6’7 frame. He went 4-4 from three-point range against St. Katherine’s University in large part because he was head and shoulders above the outstretched hand of each defender.

Jones has also shown he has the ability to forget quickly and shoot quicker. After a rough 5-12 shooting outing against Loyola Marymount to start the season, Jones shot 9-10 from the field against St. Katherine’s.

“I stay confident,” Jones said. “I try not to let one game bog me down. I stay in the gym for hours to work on my shot, and hard work pays off.”

Like Cooper, Jones fits exactly what Simon and his staff want to do. 

“Tev is a fierce competitor,” said Simon. “He really wants to win.”

Two games into the season, Jones’ has shown himself to be a go-to scorer with extended range, which will help open lanes for guards Dre Marin and John Knight III.

“You can’t leave him open,” said Simon. “He’s too talented. He can shoot it consistently beyond 25 feet.”

Simon and his staff showed they weren’t frightened by Cooper’s and Jones’s inconsistent histories. For them, it’s about building high character individuals who will make wherever they go a better place.

“We try to focus on our relationships with them,” said Simon. “We are a relationship-based program, and that means more than our win and loss record. We’re developing young men to become strong leaders in our community.”

And, of course, it doesn’t hurt to win a basketball game or two, which is exactly what Cooper and Jones intend to do this year. 

Story by: Kelton Jacobsen
Photo Courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication