ORANGE PARK, Fla. – No ceiling.
That’s what St. Johns Country Day boys basketball coach Ian Gibson says about the potential of Cam Cooper, the Spartans’ guard who led the team in scoring, assists, blocks and steals this past season as a seventh grader.
At a time when most kids are trying to figure out where they fit into the middle school social scene, Cooper has already received four college scholarship offers to play basketball. He has five more years to decide where he wants to play.
Cooper showed a talent for the game at a young age and quickly realized that he could compete with players several years older than he was.
“Ever since I started playing AAU (as a fifth grader), I just realized I was playing with all these top-ranked players and I was competing with them,” Cooper said. “I’m always thinking about the next game or what I could do next to get better. I’m always thinking about basketball.”
Cooper’s father Scott has been a basketball coach at many levels for years. He introduced the game to Cam at a young age.
“Back in the day when he could just barely walk and talk, kids I was coaching, kids would put it on Cam to take a free throw,” Scott Cooper said. “If he made it, they didn’t have to run. So, he always had that competitive spirit. He was ready. He wanted to run plays, and the older kids were running this was this is when he couldn’t, you know, barely make it to the basket. So, he was just a real tiny kid at the time.”
During the 2022-23 season, Cooper averaged 17.4 points, 3.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 0.7 blocks per game while helping lead St. Johns Country Day to a 15-9 record and a trip to the regional finals before losing to Christ’s Church in the third round of the state playoffs.
Cooper’s game belies his age. There are times when Gibson has to remind himself of the fact that his star player is also one of his youngest players.
“I have to remember if he’s in seventh grade,” Gibson said. “I just have to kind of find a balance of trying to push him to be the best he can. But also remember that he’s in the seventh grade, trying to figure things out.”
It usually doesn’t take Cooper long to figure things out.
“He’s a great teammate,” Gibson said. “Obviously, he’s a great player, but he’s all about getting his guys shots, getting them touches — a little bit too much for me — but I definitely want him to continue to be a great leader and a great teammate to his guys.”
As for those scholarships, he’s been offered by both JU and UNF as well as Queens College and Western Carolina. There will certainly be more to come. It’s a lot to deal with for a seventh grader.
“Cam’s very humble, very levelheaded,” Scott Cooper said. “When UNF gave the offer, his mom and I were all excited and emotional and Cam was like, ‘Can we go to Zaxby’s?’ He just wanted to eat. A lot of kids dream of it and he’s getting it at an early age and is just going to continue to grind.”
Those around him seem to be more affected by the scholarship offers. Cooper just keeps working on his game.
“Obviously, it’s a great honor for him the work that he’s put in,” Gibson said. “He can’t accept it right now. So, we just have to continue to work every single day to continue to get better.”
Cooper’s father is from Kentucky, so he dreams of seeing his son playing for the Wildcats, but Cam has different dreams.
“He’s like, ‘Dad, no, you were born in Kentucky. You can have that. I want to go to Florida, I was born in Florida.’ He likes the Gators, so I think I have to go with his dream and support him in whatever he wants.”
Cooper was recently selected to play for 1Family in the 16U category where he will be playing against opponents two grade levels older than him in a nationally sponsored team that will travel to competitions in Dallas, St. Louis, Wichita, Houston, Oklahoma City, and Phoenix.
As Gibson says, Cooper has no ceiling. Just one goal.
“Just go out there and be the best version of himself every day,” Gibson said.