Cooper returns to practice for Tigers
By Dan Wolken
November 26, 2006
University of Memphis sophomore Kareem Cooper returned to practice Saturday for the first time since he was suspended Oct. 30 for violating team rules.
Though coach John Calipari stopped short of fully reinstating Cooper for Wednesday's game against Arkansas State, he said the decision to bring back the 6-11 center was initiated by a group of players at a meeting roughly two weeks ago, before the team went to Hawaii for last week's EA Sports Maui Invitational.
"They said, 'Let's give him another chance,'" Calipari said. "I talked to Kareem before we left and told him, 'I'm going to let you start practicing because this basketball team wants you to be a part of it.'
"My hope is he'll care as much about them as they care about him."
Calipari declined to elaborate on why he originally suspended Cooper.
"He violated team rules and didn't have the attitude we wanted," Calipari said.
Lamar Chance, the UofM's media relations coordinator for men's basketball, said Cooper would not be available for interviews in the next several days.
Other Memphis players were available to the media Saturday, but not for the purpose of talking about Cooper.
Calipari said he had not yet decided when Cooper would play and indicated it might not be until the second semester of school begins.
"We'll see how it goes," Calipari said. "He's on a short leash, so to speak, and again, I care enough to give him an opportunity to do the right things and hopefully he'll do that."
When Cooper returns to the court, it will give the Tigers a big body off the bench that they could have used in certain situations in Maui.
One reality that hit the Tigers in a 92-85 semifinal loss to Georgia Tech was that their bench can be woefully thin on big men when foul trouble hits.
With Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey both picking up early fouls in that game and freshman Pierre Niles ineffective off the bench, Calipari was forced to play a smaller lineup that got dominated on the glass.
Calipari, however, said that didn't enter his thinking about Cooper, who averaged 11.1 minutes and 4.4 points as a freshman last year.
"Never thought about it, wouldn't care about it," Calipari said. "I told the players that came to meet me, this has nothing to do with basketball.
"I don't care whether he helps us or not. It's an opportunity for him to get his life squared away and get in the frame of mind you have to be in to lead a successful life in anything."
When Cooper was initially suspended, there was some thought that he might transfer. Cooper was suspended twice last season, including for four games in January after he was arrested during a traffic stop for marijuana possession.
Cooper, however, continued going to class and working out, which kept his hopes of returning to the team alive.
Calipari said his decision was influenced more by the feedback from Cooper's teammates than anything Cooper said.
"When they come back at me and say we need to give him another chance, I'm going to listen to it," Calipari said. "That moved me more than anything else.
"It wasn't anything Kareem said to me or anything that happened on the basketball court. It was a group of guys coming over to my house at 10 at night saying, 'Coach let's give him one more chance.'"
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365