In basketball, much attention is paid to the players, and rightfully so. But watching a good coaching duel develop can be like watching a work of art being created in front of you.
TheDribbleDrop has always appreciated all facets of the game and will be linking with a distinguished high school basketball coaches every week to discuss the ins and outs of the game and what happens in-between the lines.
This weekend, we linked with A.O.T. Basketball head coach and program director Omar Cooper at the Nike EYBL in Hampton, Virginia. During our interview, he discussed the rapid growth of his AAU program, his mental approach to coaching great players, his thoughts on the basketball climate in regards to players from New Jersey and more .
By Christian Mordi / @thedribbledrop on IG and Twitter
TheDribbleDrop: What was the defining moment for you in regard to you deciding to start an AAU program?
Omar Cooper: I decided to start “Athletes of Tomorrow,” or A.O.T. because I wanted to give a platform for the kids who were weren't chosen.
TheDribbleDrop: For those who don’t know, tell us a bit about your basketball background?
Omar Cooper: Personally, I played at Jersey City State College. I went on to play overseas for a bit as well. I have been around the game for a long time.
TheDribbleDrop: You’re from New Jersey correct? Tell us what you think about the basketball landscape in New Jersey as of late.
Omar Cooper: I think New Jersey basketball is in a great space and has been in that space for a long time. The Playaz and Team Rio are here and they do a great job. You have those two programs and many more that are doing a great job at building up today’s youth.
A program like The Playaz do a great job with their platform and they have had a couple players move on to the pros. I like what I see. On the pro level, I see a lot of high level talent from New Jersey, like Kyrie Irving. We love Jersey and we have a coach within our program, Ayton Branch, also from New Jersey.
TheDribbleDrop: This program could have been in the UAA or Adidas Gauntlet. Why did you choose to be apart of Nike and the Nike EYBL?
Omar Cooper: Well, Nike chose us actually. We were out here doing things and they noticed. They made it a priority to make us apart of their family and we are happy to be apart and accepted it with open arms.
TheDribbleDrop: You have had a bit of success within the program. Is there a defining moment for you as to when you knew that you had something special here?
Omar Cooper: To me, I feel like everyday is a struggle and mentally I’m always focused solely on getting better at everything we do one day at a time.
A lot of today’s kids think they are better than what they are. They are a work in progress, but they think they have made it already. With that mentality, when adversity strikes, many kids run away from the challenge that comes with staying and sticking with something through tough moments.
For me I don’t think we are special. I think we work hard and take advantage of every opportunity in front of us. I think we have a lot of work to do. You don’t look back and say what your career is in the midst of it. You don’t talk about it until it’s over. Everyday is a monumental day for us.
TheDribbleDrop: You coach the 17u team. If you were to use one word to describe your coaching style, what would it be and why?
Omar Cooper: Passionate. You never know when your last day is coming. I take on everyday and every game like it’s my last day coaching and I tell my kids to play everyday like it’s their last day playing. If you do that everyday out you will have a decent career in whatever you are doing.
TheDribbleDrop: You have a standout player in Sharife Cooper. What are some things you do to free him up?
Omar Cooper: I always approach him and say to him to “make us better.” The termm “making us better," is an evolving thing as a game progresses. Sometimes it’s with the shot, the pass, or even verbal communication. But make us better.
TheDribbleDrop: What piece of advice would you give a new coach starting out in the game or a young guy wanting to start his own AAU program?
Omar Cooper: Do it from the heart. Don’t try to please parents or players. Make them earn it. I don’t care what your ranking is or what anyone is saying about you or telling you what you deserve. You have to earn it. You earn the minutes you get. Period. If you keep that mentality as a young coach you will not only win games but eventually you will get the best players because you make them better. Good or average players often looks for shortcuts. Great players want to be coached hard. Every young coach wants to coach players on the highest level, so come with that mindset. Once you start letting parents and players get away with stuff, you are in trouble.