Ohio's Cooper dream of NBA job with Blazers

Small point guard starred for Bobcats for four years

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

TUALATIN, Ore. -- On the eve of his first NBA workout, D.J. Cooper spent hours held up inside a Chicago airport.

Bad weather had grounded planes, so his flight to Portland was pushed back late into the night.

Cooper, a diminutive point guard from an even smaller school, finally arrived on early Friday morning -- just enough time to recover from the travel headache before his appointment with the Trail Blazers.

Now, during this spell of pre-draft workouts, Cooper looks for a smooth takeoff into a professional basketball career.

"It's a great opportunity," the 22-year-old Cooper said after completing a trial with the Blazers. "Part of my dream is to get some workouts in the NBA, you know, just get a chance. That's all you can really ask for."

On Friday, Cooper joined Brandon Triche (Syracuse), Grant Jerrett (Arizona) and Gregory Echenique (Creighton) inside the Tualatin practice facility for the team's second pre-draft workout.

These players may not excite Blazer fans -- none are projected as first-round picks -- but their appearance could help the team's cause in another way beyond the June 27 draft.

"We also have Idaho now," general manager Neil Olshey said on Thursday while highlighting Portland's Development League affiliate. "We're not always looking at guys for the Blazers, but we're looking for guys that might…go undrafted who would like to be part of our minor-league system."

Even though pre-draft hype does not follow this batch, Triche still comes from a school with a name and Jerrett carries a 6-foot-10 lanky body built for shot blocking that could entice NBA scouts. Cooper has neither.

Cooper starred for four years at Ohio University, a school that hasn't sent a player to the NBA Draft since 2004.

Also, Cooper -- who's as tough as the South Side Chicago neighborhood he hails from -- only measures at an even 6 feet with his basketball shoes on. So although his background or size may not easily impress, Cooper walks into every workout with the hope of changing a few minds.

"That's one thing I'm trying to prove in the workouts, show that I can guard bigger guards and compete and be effective," Cooper said. "I think (teams have) heard of my name but coming from Ohio I don't think they've seen me as much because I'm not on TV as much as the higher-level schools.

"So, when I show up to these workouts, be ready and be ready to impress."

In Cooper's case, the impression should have a lasting effect.

"Whether he gets drafted or not, it's still the same goal, to present himself in a better light than they last saw him," Cooper's agent Mike Naiditch said. "The idea with Summer League, does he just get a jersey and hang out with a team for three weeks? Or is he a focal point for a team and being able to make a statement."

"These workouts aren't just a tryout to get drafted, it's a tryout for a long, long time."

As Naiditch plans to schedule more potential workouts for his client, Cooper has confidence that he can do more than simply fulfill the needs of a D-League team.

"My first goal is to play on an NBA team, make an NBA team and make somebody's roster," Cooper said. "I haven't really thought about the D-League. I have a son, and I've got a family to take care of. If I'm able to afford that, then I would. I don't discriminate wherever I play. I just love the game, but I would like to take care of my family as well."