Sharife Cooper and McEachern staying focused through early hype

Georgia public school challenges for national dominance

McEachern pulled out a gutsy win on Saturday night at the Cancer Research Classic in West Virginia. McEachern only tallied 3 points in the first quarter, and was still behind by 15 points at the end of the half.

The second half was a different story as McEachern discovered a renewed energy and confidence. Junior point guard Sharife Cooper began to find the holes in the Imhotep defense. He finished with 25 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.

“We knew they were going to come out strong,” Cooper said when reflecting on the win. “Everything was going there way in the beginning. We just had to weather the storm and I just tell everybody that it’s a game of runs.”

The Indians made their run in the second half to secure a hard fought 61-58 victory.

The win kept McEachern undefeated at 11-0. The Indians also checked-in at No. 2 in the latest USA TODAY Super 25 rankings.

It’s fairly uncommon to see a public school team earning a spot in the Top 5 of a national media poll. Typically, those top spots are occupied by prep schools or dominant private schools that battle for national championships every season.

After speaking with Cooper after the game, it’s clear that he is appreciative of the honor— but he also isn’t getting too caught up in the hype.

“I don’t really look at rankings too much,” Cooper said. “I feel like that doesn’t really mean anything…. Take one game at a time. We can’t think way over anybody. Every game matters.”

Nevertheless, while Cooper might not be paying too much attention to national rankings, other people are— including the decision makers for the 2019 GEICO Nationals.

Held annually in New York City, the GEICO Nationals is the premier season-ending event to crown a national champion. The USA TODAY Super 25 is typically the best gauge for which teams are being considered. The last team from Georgia to participate was Wheeler High School in 2015 with Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown.

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“We definitely thought about it,” Cooper said when asked about playing for a national title. “But we don’t really want to think that far ahead.”

Right now, Cooper is focused on staying in the present and building towards a state championship at the end of the year.

There’s still a bitter taste in his mouth from how things went last season. McEachern got buried in the Georgia 7A quarterfinals 75-55 against Norcross.

“I took a lot of blame for that, because I just felt like I wasn’t ready for that game, Cooper said. “I wasn’t physically ready and mentally ready. So all summer, we just worked out and everybody was working, so we are a much better team right now. Defensively, offensively, rotation-wise, we are just a much better team.”

Cooper also credits the team chemistry at McEachern for much of the success. Many of his teammates have been playing together since middle school and even before then.

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“It’s so great, because I feel like chemistry is everything with a team— chemistry and confidence,” Cooper said. “[My teammates] know everything I’m going to do and everywhere I’m going to be, and the positions they need to be at on the court. It just makes everything so much easier.”

McEachern will return to action in Georgia this week for two regional games, before facing another nationally ranked opponent in No. 13 Rancho Christian at the Hoophall Classic on Jan. 21st.

Michael McLamb is the High School Hoops Editor at Mars Reel. You can follow him: @McLambSays