Ex-Prep Cager Shines in Lone Star State

Loyola Marymount’s Hank Gathers isn’t the only basketball player with South Bay ties vying for an NCAA statistical title.

Former Banning High star Eric Cooper, in his senior season at the University of Texas-San Antonio, is waging a hot battle for the free-throw championship.

The 6-foot-4 guard, a one-time South Bay Player of the Year, has led the nation for most of the season but slipped in the last week, missing two foul shots to fall below 90% for the first time. After going 0 for 1 Tuesday night, Cooper has hit 34 of 38 attempts, 89.4%.

Going into a conference game Saturday against Hardin-Simmons, Cooper is San Antonio’s top player, averaging 17.2 points and shooting 41% from 3-point range.


As a junior, Cooper averaged 13.8 points and set school records for 3-point baskets and attempts. He helped the Roadrunners win the Trans-America Conference postseason tournament to qualify for the NCAA playoffs, where he scored 17 points in a close loss to powerful Illinois. He was named to the Trans-America all-tournament team.

Cooper, considered the top high school guard in Los Angeles when he teamed with Joey Johnson to lead Banning to the City 4-A semifinals four years ago, took a circuitous route to the Texas school, which is not widely known outside the Trans-America Conference, which is not widely known outside Trans-America.

The road to San Antone went through Tucson, where he originally signed to play for Lute Olson at the University of Arizona. Cooper found himself doing more sitting than playing in Olson’s high-powered program. When Olson’s assistant, Ken Burmeister--who had recruited Cooper--was hired as head coach at San Antonio two years ago, Cooper tagged along.

Deep in the heart of Texas, Cooper has emerged as a legitimate pro prospect, and he’s taking his best (foul) shot.

Loyola’s Gathers continues to lead the NCAA in scoring (33.6) and rebounding (14.5) in the latest national statistics. After Wednesday’s 104-79 loss to Pepperdine, the Lions may have relinquished their national lead in team scoring, dipping to 110.4 points per game. Oklahoma, the only other team averaging triple figures, scored 122 Wednesday to improve to 110.5. At the other end of the spectrum in the West Coast Athletic Conference is St. Mary’s, which has forged a 16-1 record by allowing only 55.5 points per game, second best defensive average in the nation.

In winning its seventh straight game, St. Mary’s held Santa Clara to 48 points last weekend in a 28-point victory. Santa Clara shot only 27.7% on its home court against the Gaels’ tough defense, which is holding opponents below 40% for the season. The Gaels are shooting 53%. Loyola is shooting 47.5% while opponents are hitting 54% from the field. However, the Lions lead the nation in 3-point goals per game (9) and have made more 3-pointers (155) than all but two other WCAC teams have even attempted.

In a computer rating system that ranks all 294 Division I schools for USA Today, St. Mary’s is ranked eighth, with Pepperdine No. 66, Santa Clara No. 67 and Loyola No. 69.

The Candidate: In making a bid for Division II All-American honors, Anthony Blackmon continues to add new aspects to his game at Cal State Dominguez Hills. The senior center leads the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. in scoring (19.7) and rebounding (9.6) and lately has been building up his assist totals. Blackmon entered the week averaging four assists in his last six games. Over the last nine games, Blackmon is averaging 20.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and three assists, capped by a near triple-double against Cal Poly Pomona Saturday as he recorded 18 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven assists. The 6-foot-7 Blackmon has also blocked a shot in 14 straight games.

Mapping Strategy: The Western Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn., whose teams have won every NCAA men’s title since the inception of a postseason tournament in 1970, is recruiting far and wide to stay on top. Though the 10-team conference--in full swing this week--is dominated by players from California and Hawaii, there are several recruits from New York (West Islip and Orchard Park) and Pennsylvania (York and Pittsburgh) as well as from a handful of foreign countries: West Germany, Brazil, Israel, Australia and U.S. trust territories Puerto Rico and Guam.

College Notes

Saturday’s Dominguez Hills basketball game against Cal State Northridge matches the coaches with the longest tenures in the CCAA. The Toros’ Dave Yanai is 176-133 in his 12th season. Northridge’s Pete Cassidy is 267-202 in his 18th season. Both have winning percentages of .569. The two also have been at their schools longer than any other Division I or Division II coaches in the Southland. . . . The Toros have made 38 of their last 76 3-point shots, a 50% rate. Sophomore guard Bryan Dell’Amico has made nine of his last 16 and has made 22 of 44 for the season. . . . Northridge’s starting lineup will include forward Derrick Gathers, brother of Loyola star Hank Gathers and one of Blackmon’s contenders for CCAA scoring honors at 17.8, and former Redondo Union High guard Karl Becker, averaging 7.6 points. . . . Punter Trent Morgan of Northridge was named first-team All-American by the National Weekly Football Gazette. The Serra High graduate punted 59 times for a 43.5-yard average. . . . Loyola’s Gathers, named WCAC Player of the Week for the second time this season, could go scoreless the next 10 games and would still be averaging nearly 21 points. . . . Loyola guard Bo Kimble, recovering from knee surgery, has returned to a limited practice schedule but is not expected to suit up Sunday against Pepperdine. He may see action Tuesday in a non-conference game against U.S. International. Kimble scored 92 points in three games against Pepperdine last season.