Auburn will receive a much-needed boost to its lineup Saturday when freshman point guard Sharife Cooper makes his anticipated debut. He has been sidelined all season awaiting word on his eligibility from the NCAA.
Cooper’s father, Omar Cooper, told Sports Illustrated that Sharife was cleared by the NCAA officially Saturday morning and “will suit up today” when the Tigers (6-5) host Alabama (8-3) at noon ET.
“He’s super excited,” Omar said. “He can’t stop smiling. Sharife is a kid that always dreamed of playing college basketball and now he’ll get the chance to experience that dream. Him going through this whole process has only made him stronger mentally.”
Cooper is the jewel of Auburn’s 2020 recruiting haul, which ranked No. 6 overall in the SI All-American team recruiting rankings. He was, arguably, the most complete point guard in the 2020 class and followed up an undefeated junior season by leading McEachern (Ga.) High School to the state Final Four. Cooper averaged 30.6 points, 7.8 assists and 3.6 steals per game as a senior, which earned him SI All-American first team honors.
Last summer he pumped in 25.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 8.6 assists in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, the most grueling of the summer shoe circuits.
In all, Cooper was held out of 11 games and 72 practices before being permitted to resume practicing on Dec. 28.
Cooper’s insertion into the lineup couldn’t have come at a better time for Bruce Pearl. The Tigers have lost their last three games and lead the league with 185 turnovers this season.
“Sharife is very strong minded and he’s really positive,” Omar said. “Even when it’s a really tough situation like this one, he keeps his focus. That translates on the court, whichever way the game is going he remains even-keeled. He’s always looking to turn a bad situation into a positive one. We’re just happy he’s back to playing the game he loves.”