Collin and Devin Cooper may tell you they are brothers. It’s not true.The two aren’t related, as far as they know.“We joke about it all the time,” Devin said. “They’ll be like, ‘Are you Collin’s brother?’ ‘Mmm-hmm.’ ”Collin and Devin have more in common than just last names. They’re both juniors on the Ardrey Kell basketball team. They both made varsity as freshmen. Both average about 10 points, three rebounds, 2.5 assists and a steal per game.And they’ve helped a young Ardrey Kell team start 11-4 (through Jan. 16) while playing what coach Mike Craft calls the toughest schedule in school history. “I think they’ve done a marvelous job,” Craft said. “To be able to start out 10-1 was something that we really didn’t expect.”“We’ve got to keep getting better and we’ve got to keep playing team basketball and who knows what can happen,” Craft said.Collin and Devin moved to Charlotte while in elementary school, Collin from Raleigh and Devin from Erie, Pa. They met in middle school at Community House, where they both played basketball and football. They’ve gotten to their similar stat lines in very different ways.Devin, 16, is a 5-foot-11, 160-pound point guard. He has a “scorer’s mentality,” according to Craft, and is a physical guard who defends well. “This year he’s gotten bigger, stronger, faster,” Craft said of Devin. “He’s got a lot more confidence than he had as a freshman. He can take the ball to the hole, he can shoot the ball, he’s got a great in-between game, so he kind of brings everything to the table.” Devin transferred to Fort Mill’s Walnut Grove Christian School for his sophomore year but said he is happy to be back with Ardrey Kell this season.“I missed my teammates a whole lot, actually,” Devin said. “It was like I came back to my family.”In middle school, the two would have shooting competitions. Devin said he used to think he was better; now he admits Collin is the better shooter. Collin, also 16, is a 5-foot-9, 145-pound wing. He’s more of a spot-up shooter, hitting nearly 40 percent of his 3-pointers. “He’s really a great shooter. We call him ‘the microwave,’ ” Craft said. “He can heat it up in a hurry.“Really want him to shoot more. Really wish he’d be more aggressive offensively.” The two complement each other on the court. Devin’s driving opens up shots for Collin on the wing.“He’s got all the dribble moves and he can get to the basket easily,” Collin said of Devin. “He’s got that big body, he can finish easily, you know. That’s something I’m working on, but that’s something that everybody likes about his game. He can create for everybody and he can also distribute.” Collin also benefits from playing opposite Ardrey Kell’s top scorer, junior shooting guard Steven Santa Ana, who averages 14.4 points per game. Santa Ana usually is guarded by the opponent’s best defender. Devin and Collin, along with Santa Ana, played on varsity as freshman, a rarity in the Ardrey Kell program. Only two previous freshmen had played a full season on varsity: Justin Cheek and Prince Shembo, during the program’s first season, when the school didn’t have seniors. “It’s hard for a freshman to play varsity,” Craft said. “We don’t like to do that.” But Craft now is seeing the benefits. Juniors like Collin, Devin, Santa Ana, juniors guard Seth Davis and forward Josh Freund have been forced to step up this year after the graduation of six seniors and four starters from last year’s 23-win team that lost in the second round of the playoffs. Ardrey Kell has just one senior: forward Markel Pollard.Collin and Devin said playing varsity made them more comfortable with their roles this season.“The experience of playing in all the big rivalry games and all the crowds, I think it definitely helps now,” Devin said. The Knights have played a tough schedule, beating Concord to open the season, beating Weddington on the road in November and beating defending 4A state champion Olympic by 19 in December.Ardrey Kell has also had tough losses, like an 18-point defeat against Myers Park, a three-point loss to Victory Christian in the Wild Wing Cafe Hoops Classic at Ardrey Kell and a one-point loss in a rematch with Olympic in the same tournament. The Knights lost their first conference game Jan. 10 to Berry on a last-second layup in a game in which Santa Ana didn’t play.Craft said he hopes the challenging schedule will help the team down the stretch in conference play and into the postseason.“We’re getting there,” Craft said. “What I’m preaching to them is they’ve got to come in and work hard every day, and they understand that. Toughest schedule we’ve ever had; now let’s capitalize on that.”Devin and Collin Cooper have one more thing in common: Their confidence in this Ardrey Kell team.“I feel like we have a great opportunity,” Devin said. “I feel like we have a special group here and we can make something happen in these last two years.”
Friday, Jan. 17, 2014
Ardrey Kell’s Coopers may not be brothers, but have a lot in common
Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe
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