Cooper talks about "one of the highlights" of his basketball experience
Opening statements, I'll tell you, I told Val Ackerman, if something were to happen where I could not see tomorrow, this would definitely be one of the highlights of my basketball experience. Just being here with 22 of the best women that play this game at a very high level, and especially in that locker room, the 11 best in the West, if not all of them, will one day go down in the Hall of Fame for WNBA, this was it.
This was an excellent game. I think the fans really enjoyed it. The players played hard, they played together, and as a coach, one of the toughest things to do is find minutes for everyone and find certain combinations. I think just the fact of the players being here, it tells them that they were one of the best for this particular year.
Q. With there being so much talk about the next wave of players and the younger generation of players, was the performance of players like Lisa and Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes saying that they are still here?
Cooper: I think the younger players coming in, Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, can learn from those players, because of the passing of the torch, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, "Smooth," who I call Lisa Leslie, they want to retire, but they want to retire with the league at its best. The passing has to be done so the torch is not dropped and the caliber of play is not diminished, but it tends to escalate, so this League can be here for quite a long time. I think the young women have a lot of players that they can look up to, one day aspire to become a professional here in the United States.
Q. Can you talk about Lisa's game, she was the best player on the floor, especially down the stretch on the last four or five minutes?
Cooper: I'm not going so say she was the best player on the floor because there were nine other players that were pretty good heck of ballplayers. But at that particular point in the game, she was one of the most dominating and the thing about Smooth is she is not only good on offense, but defense. She had some key blocks. A lot of people don't feel she's a good rebounder, but I think she is a dang good rebounder. She gets tough rebounds. She had the ability to dominate the game in that way and she did this today and that's one of the reasons we were so successful winning a championship last year, of her play all-around, not just at one end of the court.
Q. You said this was the highlight of your career, anyone in particular that you were impressed with on your team?
Cooper: I was impressed with all of them. I go back to saying the biggest dilemma an All-Star coach has is to find space and quality for all of the players. Lauren Jackson was superb. I regretted taking her out in the first half because she had that fatigued look on her face, but she shot the ball well. Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes, I have a newfound respect for them, always seeing them as the opposition and getting a chance to experience some of their experience, as far as playing them. This goes all the way down, Adrienne Goodson, Marie Ferdinand, all of those players, you have a different look at those players because you get to see a different side of them, as opposed to always seeing them coming to the arena and "being the enemy."
Q. What was your reaction to the crowd? We heard the fans booing when Lisa was accepting the MVP Trophy.
Cooper: Fans are going to be fans and obviously, the East is the home team of the Washington Mystics. They wanted their team to win.
I don't know how the voting went with the MVP, I'm just glad that we got a win and I was not the first coach for the West to lose.
But fans are going to be fans and you have to just take their opinions and their boos and their claps.
Q. Do you think the closeness of the game kept some of the showmanship that might have naturally come later in the game if it was not such a tight game?
Cooper: No, I think the tight game really, you got to see a person's talent really come. You see -- and again, Ticha Penicheiro was about to do something Magic Johnson like. But the closeness of the game helps the game. No one wants to see a 25, 30-point blowout. I like that both teams played extremely well. Our goal in the locker room was to score one hundred points, but these were the most fantastic, exciting 81 points I've seen our team play in any game this season.
Q. Was there any difference between the first half and the second half as far as Lisa's play, and secondly, what is it about this event that seems to bring out the best in her?
Cooper: Well, it's the All-Star. You always want to perform on the highest plateau that you are given and this is about the only day that everybody comes together. These are 22 of the best players in your field, and you've got the whole world watching you. It's your stage. That would bring out the best in anyone. Again, she always plays at a high level. After last year, I think she knows that she has to take it up a notch and to her it could have been a statement; that "I'm back and I'm not going anywhere."
Still, any one of those players, Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes, Penicheiro could have walked away with the MVP, but the voting just went her way.