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D.J. Cooper's passing ability earned him Mid-American Conference freshman of the year in the 2009-10 season. Cooper is currently averaging 8.1 assists a game, third in the country.

Perfect Vision

To the average eye, a basketball court is a 94-foot-by-50 rectangle with two baskets standing at opposite sides.

For D.J. Cooper, the surface looks different. It stands as a playground, a stage where he can show off his passing ability and distribute to his four teammates.

Ohio’s sophomore point guard, whose 8.1 assists per game is third-best in the nation, progressed through high school in Chicago and became one of Illinois’ top point guard recruits.

Now, he’s one of the best passers in the Mid-American Conference. The reigning MAC Freshman of the Year said he could see a change in his vision during grade-school ball.

“It kind of came to me naturally,” Cooper said. “I mean, when I was a kid, I’d always be making the simple passes, the good passes to try to make my teammates better.”

Standing 5-foot-11, Cooper has always had to work harder than taller opponents. Because of his stature, he said he always tried to be hungrier than his adversaries.

That motivation helped his progress, and now he’s climbed to the top of the MAC, easily passing to teammates Tommy Freeman and DeVaughn Washington.

“(My passes) depend on what the other team is giving me,” Cooper said. “It depends on who’s hitting shots at that time. I’m not going to force it to them, but I’m going to try to emphasize me going to their side.”

Cooper’s ability is evident, as he sets up Freeman for open 3-pointers. He slithers into the paint, forcing Freeman’s man to help. Cooper uses the space to find Freeman, Ohio’s top shooter, in hopes of a make.

If he progresses deeper into the lane, Cooper looks to include Washington and Ivo Baltic as he slips passes their way. But if defenses decide to leave him open, Cooper isn’t scared to create his own shots, evident in his 18.8 points a game this season.

“When (Baltic and Washington) get good position, I just trust them that they’re gonna finish,” Cooper said. “If I get it to them, I got faith in my guys.”

Although he is Ohio’s leading scorer, it appears Cooper enjoys setting up his teammates for jump shots more than sinking his own.

In what coach John Groce said was his best overall game as a Bobcat, Cooper had 15 assists against Akron last Wednesday. The game was a representation of his repertoire.

Groce, who was an assistant coach at Ohio State when current NBA point guard Mike Conley Jr. played for the Buckeyes, said Cooper has similar vision to the Memphis Grizzlies’ point guard.

“From a vision perspective, he’s as good as I’ve coached,” Groce said. “He has incredible vision and has the ability to put almost any ball on time and on target, which is really rare.”

Cooper’s willingness to make risky passes allows him to have big passing games, Groce said. Although he might turn it over a few times, the team still benefits from his courage to sneak in passes.

“You always gotta be ready when he has the ball,” Freeman said.  “Because you never know when it could be coming to you. He usually makes the right read and, if you’re open, he’ll find you.”

Citing God and his parents as his biggest influences, Cooper emphasizes how important his father was on his development as a player. When D.J. was young, his dad wouldn’t let him take his ability for granted.

“He was my main reason for my growth,” Cooper said. “He stayed on me, helped me get better, helped me develop all my skills.”

Cooper treats his talent as a gift and harvests it effectively. And as only a sophomore, Cooper’s potential is limitless, just like the number of places on the court he can pass from.

“My dad told me I had a gift for making the guys around me better and giving them the ball,” Cooper said. “For me to have the ability to make the guys around me better, that’s what really makes me wanna get better.”

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