Skip to main content

Cavs Guard, Charge Star Sharife Cooper Working Toward His Own G League Success Story

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Sharife Cooper discusses his valued experience in the G League and the team's summer league title win 1-on-1 with Spencer Davies.

With two-and-a-half minutes left to go, the Cleveland Cavaliers were maintaining a six-point lead over the Atlanta Hawks on the road. In the first preseason matchup of the year, the team’s younger players were pacing the wine and gold in a highly entertaining fourth quarter.

Alongside his championship NBA Summer League teammates, Sharife Cooper brought the ball into mid-court after receiving a pass from Emoni Bates following a defensive stop. Isaiah Mobley stepped above the break to set a screen, then immediately slipped away as Cooper began to drive to his right. As the Cavs’ guard made his way to the middle of the floor and drew multiple defenders, he jumped and passed the rock to Dean Wade on the wing.

With seven seconds left on the shot clock, Cooper snuck away and cut baseline to the corner for Wade to swing it over. As the possession wound down, he tried a pump fake on Trent Forrest, who didn’t budge. Mobley was practically right next to him and the shot clock was down to three, so he stepped back to his left to try to create a sliver of space to shoot. But in the middle of Forrest’s contest, Cooper dumped the ball to Mobley midway through his attempt. The result? A shot-clock violation.

While the play ultimately wasn’t the sole cause of Cleveland surrendering its lead and the game itself that night, Cooper was hard on himself in the film room the next day.

“Literally, I just had this conversation with him about [it]. He came up to me. I think he made a pass to the corner late and it wasn't on target, and the guy didn't get his shot off. He was beating himself about it,” Cleveland Charge assistant coach and former Cavs guard Daniel “Booby” Gibson explained.

“I'm like ‘'Rif, nobody plays perfect. But you're doing everything right.' I believe out of the two-ways and the young guys, he was the first one that they put into the game. I told him, ‘Rif, you're showing up every day.' What you've got to do is control what you can control, and that's showing up on time and putting the work in. We don’t know if the shots are gonna go in or not.”

Feb 19, 2023; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Team Luka point guard Sharife Cooper (2) drives around Team Scoot guard Scoot Henderson (0) during the first half at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Feb 19, 2023; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Team Luka point guard Sharife Cooper (2) drives around Team Scoot guard Scoot Henderson (0) during the first half at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Invited to Cavs training camp for the second consecutive campaign, Cooper earned that right through what he accomplished in the G League with the Charge last season and being a key cog in Cleveland’s title team in Las Vegas. Asked about what he wants to prove during this stint with the big club, the Auburn alum pointed to his maturity.

“Being able to space the floor, push the tempo, lock in, play defense full-court,” Cooper told Cavs Insider on Media Day. “And just give the team a different boost when I'm in the game and when I'm on the floor. If I'm not on the floor, be that teammate, that leader and have a great energy about myself. That's what I'm looking forward to doing.”

In his debut year with the Charge, the motivated Cooper averaged 22.8 points and 6.9 assists per night across 43 games. He carried the responsibility of running the show with a 30+ percent usage rate too, and in the playoffs, that trust only grew.

Cooper was named G League Performer of the Week on two separate occasions — Nov. 12, 2022 and Jan. 10, 2023.

In that mid-November stretch, he put together back-to-back 40-point games and dropped a career-high 42 points and 12 assists against Grand Rapids.

As for January, he averaged 34.0 points, 7.0 assists and 5.7 rebounds per contest as the Charge won three straight matchups. Soon after, the G League honored Cooper with the Player of the Month award.

When the season came to a close, Cooper made the All-G-League Second Team.

“Going through the ups and downs, you learn so much from it,” Cooper said. “My first year was a ton of ups and downs, and then being able to get into the NBA and learn what it's like and it's completely different in what you expect.

“So then you come into Year 2 and it's like, 'Alright, I kinda got it,' and you have a pretty good year. You still have ups and downs, whether it's injuries or losses or bad games. But just getting all that experience, now it's like you feel like a whole completely different person and player.”

For Cooper, the G League has helped him “extremely” with becoming a better professional.

“Being able to have reps and play NBA players in meaningful games and meaningful minutes at a professional level... [there’s] a lot of great talent out there, and the game is similar — not exactly what the NBA is, but it's pretty similar. So I feel like I have a real two years of experience, and it almost feels like my rookie year.

“Being able to be like a two-year experienced rookie, I feel like it [means] a lot and it helps me so much coming into training camp 'cause I'm already familiar with it.”

Not everybody’s turn comes at the same time with respect to the NBA. It’s truly dependent on factors out of players’ control. Excluding some preseason reps, Cooper hasn’t gotten his chance in Cleveland yet, and when he was with Atlanta, the minutes were largely inconsequential.

“Sharife has been the epitome of what we talk about. Showing up, growing and the maturity is just showing in his game,” Gibson said. “So I personally hope that 'Rif gets an opportunity to play here or play wherever because he's about all of the right things. He got a bad rap coming in from a situation where he didn't have the right opportunity.

“Just be the first one to the gym. You'll see that blind over there raised up, you'll see the GM peek in, and that's all you need. They trust the guys that work hard, and that's why being in the G, I got an opportunity to share that with Sharife. So Sharife's the first one in the gym now.”

Sep 26, 2022; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Sharife Cooper (1) during media day at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Sep 26, 2022; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Sharife Cooper (1) during media day at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

G League success stories continue to give Cooper his blueprint. One of the most recent examples is his backcourt teammate Sam Merrill, who signed a three-year contract with the Cavs in mid-March.

“He's similar to a position like me, coming from the back,” Cooper said. “He's the last pick of the [2020 NBA Draft], went to the G League Draft and kinda fought his way. I knew it last year. I said it multiple times. People asked me who should be in the NBA, and I said Sam. So seeing him get his chance and his opportunity and now he's on the roster, I'm just happy for him.

“To see guys come from the back and fight and have to claw and work to get to that spot, when they finally do it, it makes me happy.”

Cooper told Cavs Insider this was the first summer in a while that he had the chance to get away a little bit. That, of course, after Cleveland took home a gold trophy as Summer League champs.

"We won every game," Cooper said. "Just from last year, a lot of guys were with the Charge that went to summer league, so it was kind of a seamless connection along with the rookies and the other guys that were there. But it was fun for us. We knew we were talented, but when we're able to show it on the big stage, it's pretty good."

In addition to Mobley and Summer League head coach Mike Gerrity, Merrill has enjoyed going through his first Cleveland training camp with Cooper there next to him.

“It's nice when you get to play with each other 'cause we obviously know each other very well, so we've been able to take advantage of that a little bit,” Merrill said. “I think Sharife's gotten a whole lot better. He's always had a ton of talent. He's a young kid, but I feel like he's gotten so much better as a floor general, as a leader and as a player as well.

“I think he's gonna continue to grow. It wouldn't shock me at all if he's up in the NBA again at some point.”

So far in preseason, there’s been limited chances for Cooper. He played his highest number of minutes so far (14:25) in the opener vs. the Hawks, but has only seen about six minutes since. With Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff calling for the finale in Indiana to be a dress rehearsal for the regular season, Cooper may only see fourth-quarter action again pending on what the coaching staff decides.

Regardless of what happens, Cooper isn’t going to let anything get in his way of becoming an NBA player. He’s put too much time into this to stop, and at 22 years old, there’s so much more left to give to the game.

“That's the best part — being able to experience this so young and have so much potential ahead of me,” Cooper said. “I feel like I'm nowhere near as good as I possibly can be. But I feel like I am pretty experienced.

“It's an extreme gift to be able to play two years in this league and be around this league for two years and going into my third.”