Welp, we hardly knew ye, sweet Sharife.
After playing just 12 games as an Auburn Tiger in a freshman season marred by complications from the NCAA and injuries, Sharife Cooper is going pro. He’s not just testing the waters, either, as he’s hiring an agent and giving up the dream of playing on what would certainly be a preseason top five team next year with Jabari Smith entering school.
Auburn's Sharife Cooper -- the No. 17 prospect in the ESPN 100 -- will declare for the 2021 NBA draft and forgo his remaining college eligibility by hiring an agent, Cooper told ESPN. https://t.co/0iYPq916ap— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 2, 2021
While Cooper only played a handful of games for Auburn, his impact was immediate, dropping 26 points and 9 assists in his first game against Alabama. He followed that up with 28 points next time out against Georgia. Thrice he went for double digits assists, and was never held to single digit scoring during his time on the active roster.
As the news broke this morning, some small corners of the Auburn internet stratosphere started saying things like “He wasn’t that good anyway” and qualified him as a definite non-first rounder, even though he was clearly the Tigers’ best player and the catalyst for the offense when he was on the floor.
In the tweet above, he’s referenced as the #17 player on the draft board, but what will he bring to the next level? Most importantly, the ability to control an offense and get to the bucket. An elite free throw shooter and a guy that can easily finish at the rim despite his size, he’ll have his suitors among the NBA.
He will have to work on the outside shooting game, obviously, as he was just a 23% guy from deep this year, and defensively he wasn’t as lockdown as you might want. However, that court vision and knack for getting fouled and going to the line for relatively automatic points are huge cornerstones for a player that can last a long time in the NBA as a real contributor.
If he’s leaving school, you almost assume that he’s heard somehow that he’ll be a first round pick, if not a lottery selection. With Chuma Okeke and Isaac Okoro both going high the past two years, Auburn would almost assuredly have a third straight first rounder, with potential for more with the talent that Bruce Pearl is bringing in over the next couple of years.
So, while his time on the Plains was fragmented and frustrating, watching Sharife Cooper was one of the joys that Auburn fans haven’t had the opportunity to do over the years. There’s quite honestly never been a player like him in the orange and blue before. In the end, what does it mean for Auburn moving forward? There are a few options, but there’s one universe that we’d all like to see before anything else.
While Cooper was the gem of last year’s recruiting class, Auburn will likely be bringing in a class to fill the holes this season. With Jabari Smith and Trey Alexander, there’s also a possibility of adding a reclassification of Scoota Henderson, a five-star point guard in his own right. He could end up moving up a class and joining the Tigers (for whom he’s predicted as a 100% lean to Auburn at the moment). Smith will be providing an elite offensive game in which he can play inside and out, and Alexander is a sharpshooter from the win to replace the productivity lost from Justin Powell. With Henderson as a possibility, the Tigers could have a core group of freshmen to lead the way. Don’t forget about Missouri transfer Xavier Pinson either, another guy on Auburn’s radar.
That’s not even counting the returnees from the nation’s youngest team. Gone are Powell, Javon Franklin, Jamal Johnson, and maybe J.T. Thor if he chooses to stick in the NBA Draft. Still, returning will be Allen Flanigan, who took a wild step forward in 2020, and Jaylin Williams, both juniors. Devan Cambridge also comes back as a junior, and the rising sophomore group of Dylan Cardwell and Chris Moore (both of whom look to be four-year guys), will only provide a solid baseline for whatever additions Bruce Pearl brings in.
In the end, we didn’t get to truly see the flame that was Sharife Cooper burn as bright as it could, but he was still extremely exciting in the short time we knew him. He’ll almost certainly be a first round pick, continuing to cement Auburn as a major player in producing professional talent.