Nyemade Cooper has always had a significant role on the Kalamazoo College Hornet women's basketball team, and that role has expanded in this her junior year.
"I'm becoming more of a leader, helping the underclassmen," said Cooper.
The 6'1'' center is no stranger to making big contributions. Two seasons ago, her first as a Hornet, all of the post players were freshmen, and Cooper stepped up to lead the team in rebounding (6.1) and average the second-highest number of points on the squad (8.5). Last season, with a year of experience behind her, she had four consecutive double-doubles for a career total of nine and was named MIAA Player of the Week during the seventh week of the season. She ended that season with the highest rebounding average (7.9) and the second-highest point average (12.6).
And this season? Through the first nine games Cooper has led the team in scoring (18.6 points) and rebounding (l9.2). That's in addition to her expanding leadership role.
And all at a college that wasn't even on her radar in high school.
"I actually didn't hear about 'K' on my own," she said. "I was looking at the University of Michigan or Eastern Michigan and was getting recruited to play basketball at Sienna Heights."
But after discovering "K" through her high school basketball coach and looking into it, the Ypsilanti native's choice changed.
"It ended up between Michigan and not playing or going to Kalamazoo and still having the opportunity to play," Cooper explained. "I still wanted to play basketball, and I knew being at a school with smaller class sizes would be beneficial."
The chemistry major and aspiring pediatrician has taken advantage of the small classes and the availability of professors as she prepares for med school. Combining academics and athletics isn't
Combining academics and athletics isn't always easy, but Cooper knows that her teammates will help.always easy, but Cooper knows that her teammates will help.
"[The combined academic and athletic challenge is] difficult to do, but it makes you plan ahead and manage your time, and it helps to know that you're not the only one going through it," she said. "It helps to have people behind you."
Midway through her junior season, feeling both her role on the team and her leadership beyond the gym develop, Cooper nevertheless knows that her time on the court will eventually come to an end. "I think about it now and I'm like, 'What am I going to do when basketball is over?'" she said.
The team is rebuilding, but Cooper knows that the value of her collegiate athletic experience is mostly a matter of the people she plays with and not so much the team's finish in the conference standings. "My teammates and my friends are what I'm going to remember," she said.
by Jessica Maas