AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn freshman guard Sharife Cooper announced Friday he plans to submit his name for the 2021 NBA Draft and forgo his remaining eligibility.
“This past year has been nothing short of special – one of the best years of my life coming here to Auburn and being embraced by something that’s bigger than me. It’s hard to imagine what it was like when I was in high school when I wasn’t here yet, but I always couldn’t wait to get here. Being here and being embraced by Auburn and the community is something that I’ll live with forever. Through thick and thin, Auburn and my family have had my back, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. In times like this, I like to reminisce and just thank the people that have been there since the beginning.
“First and foremost, I would like to thank God. Without him, none of this is possible. I’m just so thankful for people like my mother. She’s been there every step of the way and at every game. I can’t remember a game that she’s missed, whether it was watching it or being there. My dad – it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that I could thank him for. Just being there, being him, the person he is, I couldn’t be more thankful for having someone like that in my life. My brother and my sisters – Te’a, Mia, Omar – I couldn’t be more thankful for them. They’re my rock. To the Auburn staff – Coach Pearl, Coach Bowman, Coach Flanigan, Coach Steven Pearl, Coach Davis and the rest of the staff – they’ve helped me tremendously just getting better, getting stronger and becoming a better player and a better version of myself on the court and off the court. To know in the back of your head that Auburn has your back is a feeling that I can’t explain.
“It was a tough decision, a hard decision, but with that being said, I would like to declare for the 2021 NBA Draft and hire an agent. I’m forever grateful to be a part of the Auburn Family. If I had to make the decision a million more times, I’d pick Auburn every time. War Eagle.”
Despite Cooper playing in just 12 games in an Auburn uniform, he made an impact on the court averaging 20.2 points, 8.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game during the 2020-21 campaign. He is one of just seven players in the country to average 20 points and eight assists per game in the last 25 years, joining recent players such as Ja Morant (Murray State) and Trae Young (Oklahoma).
“We’re very excited for Sharife,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “While he may have signed his National Letter of Intent in November of 2019 and only played in 12 games, he was an Auburn Tiger way before that. Players that came before him like Isaac Okoro, Devan Cambridge and Babatunde Akingbola knew full well that Sharife wanted to follow in the footsteps of some of our great point guards.
“His character and his hard work clearly shined through his lone season with us. After missing 72 days of practice, he started his first game against Alabama and put up 26 points and nine assists to help us take the would-be SEC champions down to the wire. He is a once in a generation point guard who has an uncanny ability to score and help others score. I’m proud of him, and he’ll always be an Auburn Tiger.”
Cooper became one of two Tigers to have three point-assist double-doubles in a season since the assist became an official NCAA statistic prior to the 1983-84 season. Moochie Norris had three such games during the 1994-95 season.
The Powder Springs, Ga. native scored or assisted on 471 of Auburn’s 996 points with him in the lineup (47.3 percent). His 8.1 assists per game set a single-season program record, breaking current assistant coach Wes Flanigan’s mark of 6.7 dimes per contest.
Cooper, who was picked to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team, was a consensus 5-star and top-20 prospect out of McEachern High School. The previously highest rated signee in program history became the third McDonald’s All-American to sign with Auburn, joining Frank Ford (1983) and Korvotney Barber (2005).
He was also tabbed as a Sports Illustrated First Team All-American following his senior season and was named the 2018-19 USA Today National Player of the Year after leading McEachern to a 32-0 record and a state title his junior year.