Neither the transition from college to professional basketball, nor from North America to Europe, could have gone much smoother for Sudbury sensation Samantha Cooper.
The 24-year-old Lockerby Composite alumna followed standout four-year career with the Fairfield Stags, who play in the Division I Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference, by signing last summer with Grengewald Hostert, a team in the Luxembourg Total League, for the 2018-19 campaign.
Success was swift for the 6-foot-2 forward, who appeared in 28 games, scoring 20.3 points per game and averaging 13.1 rebounds per contest. Her strong play helped the squad reach the Total League finals, where Grengewald defeated T71 Dudelange in a three-game series earlier this month, taking the decisive third match on a buzzer-beater in overtime.
“It was a really great experience, really fun,” said Cooper, now back in Canada.
Cooper’s performance was a key to victory, as she led the team with 23 points and nine rebounds, securing her status as finals MVP.
For a university grad making a transition to the pro game, the tiny European nation offered an ideal fit, in several ways, and one that may prove a perfect springboard to her next opportunity.
“It was kind of a leap of faith, but it really worked out,” Cooper said.
“It’s a small country, so it’s easy to get around and you’re more likely to be able to connect with people in the country and stuff like that,” Cooper said. “It looked like a really good fit for me on paper. The coach was the previous senior German national team head coach and it seemed like he could really help develop my game. They also speak French as their main language over there and coming from Sudbury, I was always a French immersion kid and I took French as a minor in university, so it kind of all fell into place.”
Helping to coach a youth team as part of her contract, she quickly got used to the local dialect. She also picked up bits of German and Luxembourgish, a related tongue that is spoken by more than half the country’s citizens.
Her abilities were well-suited to the European style of play.
“It was good, very competitive,” Cooper said. “I would practise in the morning with my roommate, who was from the United States, so we were the two paid players, the two professionals, and we would practise every morning with the coach, individually, then we would lift, then we would have a team practice at night with everyone. Then, we would play pretty much once a week, every week from September until May.
“We played the same teams a bunch of times, so especially by the end, when we played in the championship game against Dudelange, that was our ninth time we had played them and at that point, it’s really just about being gritty and just going after every ball and every possession, because we had played each other so many times, we kind of knew how everyone played.”
Cooper shot 47.2 per cent from the field and 31.2 from three-point range, while making 66.9 per cent of free throws. She also averaged 2.2 assists per game en route to earning Eurobasket.com All-Luxembourg First-Team honours.
“The European style is more transition, so it was a lot of fast breaks, running the floor, taking open shots, which I think really suited my game,” Cooper said. “It really gave me a chance to get out and run and as a forward, I’m in pretty good shape, so it was easy for me to get a couple of layups a game, just running the floor. That was a huge bonus for me and something a little different from university. In our league down in the States it was more play-based, so that was something to get used to at first, but I think it was ultimately a really good fit for me.”
The daughter of Grant and Joanne Cooper believes she left the Total League a more well-rounded player.
“I spent a lot of time working with the coach on my inside and outside game, working on ball-handling, everything. He was really good at developing me and I think I really did improve as a player, so that was really exciting for me to see this year, too.”
She hopes to put her expanded skill set to good use next season, though it likely won’t be with Grengewald.
“I spoke with the president of the club and he wanted me to re-sign, but I have decided I want to pursue other options and keep travelling around,” Cooper said. “I hope to live in a different country, play in a different league and just keep getting as much international basketball experience as I can, so I’m working with my agent now and just waiting to see what comes up.”
She’s hoping to stay in western Europe, having thoroughly enjoyed exploring the region so far.
“My parents came for Christmas, because I didn’t have a whole lot of time to go home, and it was actually on my dad’s bucket list to go to the Spengler Cup, so we drove over to Switzerland for a few days, went to a hockey game there. I managed to visit six different countries when I was over there, which was definitely really cool.”