ATLANTA － The general consensus around the 2021 NBA Draft is the Atlanta Hawks grabbed good values for No. 20 draft pick Jalen Johnson and No. 48 pick Sharife Cooper.
Like what the Hawks did last night from a talent perspective. You could argue Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper are lottery talents. Both are definitely worth the swing at 20 and 48. The Hawks with a nice blend of win-now contributors, young rotation players & long-term talent.— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) July 30, 2021
Johnson was mocked as high as a top-10 pick in some spaces while Cooper was widely regarded as a mid-to-late first round prospect going into the night. Cooper’s slide down the draft board was certainly surprising to basketball fans in the south who have heard of the 6-foot-1 guard who grew up in the metro Atlanta area. In 2019, Cooper became the first non-senior MaxPreps National Boys Basketball Player of the Year after he averaged 28.6 points, 8.6 assists and 4.1 steals per game as a junior at McEachern High School in Powder Springs.
Cooper held a draft watch party in the metro Atlanta area on Thursday night, surrounded by friends and family, including former high school teammate and Cleveland Cavaliers wing Isaac Okoro.
“It was definitely a long night for me, but when I was finally able to hear my name called by the Atlanta Hawks, everybody went crazy,” Cooper said. “It was just a crazy feeling. Everybody yelling, screaming. Seeing my mom smile, my dad happy, my brother happy. It was probably one of the best moments of my life for sure.”
Despite the slide, Cooper kept a positive tone during Friday’s afternoon’s introductory press conference in Atlanta. “I feel like God doesn’t make any mistakes,” Cooper said. “The draft is in the past and I just couldn’t be more thankful that the Hawks took a chance on me. That’s my focus right now. I’m with the Hawks and everything else is in the past.”
Cooper, the younger brother of Los Angeles Sparks guard Te’a Cooper and son of AOT founder Omar Cooper, the AAU organization that housed Los Angeles Clippers’ draft pick Brandon Boston, Jr. and Okoro. Sharife grew into a spotlight of his own throughout high school. Before the start of his senior year, he graced the cover of SLAM Magazine with Houston Rockets’ 2021 draft picks Jalen Green and Joshua Christopher. Christopher’s high school, Mayfair, traveled from California to McEachern to face off against Cooper in a packed gym with the SLAM cover of both teenagers blown up on the gym’s wall.
Cooper later went on to Auburn, where in 12 starts he averaged 20.8 points, 8.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds for the Tigers. He became the second Division I freshman to average over 20 points and eight assists a game in the last 25 seasons. Trae Young was the other freshman to do it.
“Trae Young was one of my favorites growing up as well,” Cooper said. “Watching him and Michael Porter on AAU when I was a couple years younger. I was extremely high on him, a big fan of his, so seeing him show that love and now that we’re on the same team is going to be fun for sure.” Cooper said he grew up watching the Hawks, specifically the teams that featured Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. As a teenager, he also seemingly grew close to former Hawk and 2004 Mr. Georgia Basketball Dwight Howard for a brief period.
“He tells me little things like continue to play hard,” Cooper said. “Be tenacious on the defensive end. The NBA likes defensive guys, so he says stuff like that, but for the most part he stands on the side and claps and congratulates me.”
Next up for Cooper is the Las Vegas Summer League, which begins for the Hawks on Aug. 8 against the Boston Celtics.