Junior point guard D.J. Cooper is an unquestioned leader for the Bobcats. So much so that his understudy, freshman Stevie Taylor, refers to him as the “floor general” when he’s on the court.
Cooper’s leadership gives him authority on the court — and the right to question Taylor’s haircut before practice. Cooper jokingly expressed his concern that having a second player adopt his style was not acceptable.
Such is the relationship between the Bobcats’ ball handlers, who are more similar and different than their haircuts suggest. As Cooper leads the 21-6
Bobcats into the final stretch of Mid-American Conference play, Taylor continues to refine his role as a high-energy player who can run the offense in Cooper’s absence.
“Everybody has a different role on the team. My role on the team is to come off the bench and to be a spark and don’t turn the ball over and to be a good teammate,” Taylor said. “If I can execute those roles at a high level, I help my team in every way possible.”
Taylor’s arrival in Athens brought necessary depth to Ohio’s roster. Cooper was the team’s only true point guard last year, meaning his only true source of rest was the folding chair he sat in during media timeouts.
Cooper logged almost 36 minutes per game last season, which was six more minutes than any other player. During the course of the year, he played 241 more minutes — the equivalent of six more games — than any of his teammates.
This season, Cooper is averaging a more modest 31.6 minutes per game, and his productivity has stayed relatively consistent. His points, rebounds and assists are slightly down, but so are his turnovers and fouls. That indicates that he is staying fresh during his time on the floor, and Taylor is likely the reason behind that.
“It’s a relief having (Taylor) come off the bench, knowing that we have another good guard that can do just as much as I can and score as well,” Cooper said.
The point guards share the common goal of directing Ohio’s offense, but their styles of play differ substantially. Cooper has drawn eyes with his nifty passing, while Taylor has opted to shoot more frequently. Cooper drives the basket and elevates, drawing contact and fouls, but Taylor tends to avoid contact by gliding along the court and eluding defenders.
And other differences simply come with their relative levels of experience.
“D.J. understands our system a little bit better right now, being a third-year guy,” coach John Groce said. “The vision probably at this point, in terms of being able to see what he needs to see, is a little bit better.
“Stevie has shot the ball better than D.J. to this point and has provided some explosive offense off the bench, almost like a microwave type of mentality.”
Through their first 27 games together, Cooper has taught Taylor some vital lessons about playing at the collegiate level, such as keeping his head up when his shots are off and learning to practice hard even when he lacks motivation.
“That’s one thing he told me, just listen to the coaches and prepare each day like it’s my last and we’ll be better,” Taylor said. “Just to slow it down in the mind. Don’t go a hundred miles an hour.”
The point guards constantly push each other in practice with the hope that iron will sharpen iron. And with three challenging MAC East road contests and a conference tournament left on the schedule, Cooper will have the chance to show Taylor just how grueling this part of the year can be.
“He’s just got to go through the learning pains, the growing pains,” Cooper said. “As you get older, you learn more. Hopefully, he can learn more and just continue to get better.”