Women of Troy Kick Off A New Era Under Cynthia Cooper

    The new era starts Friday at Galen Center! Be there at 7 p.m.!

    Oct. 31, 2013

    USC women's basketball is in full swing starting this Friday! Join the Women of Troy and new head coach Cynthia Cooper this Friday (Nov. 1) at Galen Center for their 7 p.m. exhibition game against Westmont!

    By Sarah Bergstrom

    Believe it. A legend has come home and the Women of Troy are ready to rise once again to the elite level of their glory days. Trojan great Cynthia Cooper returns to USC, this time as head coach of the women's basketball team, having helped to lead the Women of Troy to back-to-back NCAA Championships as a student-athlete. Cooper then won an Olympic gold medal, four WNBA titles and went on to launch a successful career as a head coach.

    In the past seven years, Cooper has resurrected three collegiate programs and received three league coach of the year honors in return. But now she's returned to her roots to coach the 2013-14 Women of Troy back to dominance in collegiate women's basketball.

    "I am thrilled to be here, thrilled to be back in the Pac-12 and to be back home at USC," Cooper said. "If you were to ask me what my dream job was at any point in my coaching career, I would always have said my dream is to come back and lead the USC women's basketball team."

    The team is equally thrilled to welcome back a Trojan who played such a large role in building USC women's basketball's elite heritage. Her passion for all things USC, coupled with her immense basketball knowledge, make her the perfect fit as head coach.

    "We were all pretty excited," senior forward Cassie Harberts said of Cooper's hiring. "She bleeds cardinal and gold, which is what we were looking for. She's one of best players to ever play the game. To have that on and off the court, we're so appreciative, and to be mentored by someone like her is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."



    Cooper will be aided by a strong staff of coaches, including the new additions of associate head coach Brandy Manning and assistant coach Jualeah Woods. Woods is a Trojan herself, having played with Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson and graduating USC in 1994. Assistant coach Evan Unrau is back for her second season with the Women of Troy.

    Cooper took over the USC program following a disappointing 2012-13 season in which the Trojans finished 11-20 and seventh in the Pac-12, missing the NCAA Tournament for the seventh consecutive season.

    "I think coming into this year with Coach Cooper, she wants to bring a winning mentality, and I think a mentality like that is what we've been missing," Harberts said. "Going into a game, knowing we need a win and knowing what we need to do to get there, that's what's been different."

    The Women of Troy are putting the past behind them and are looking for a fresh start under Cooper's leadership. The speed will be different, the intensity will be different, and according to Cooper, USC women's basketball will be fun again. Working in an uptempo offense and defense to match the level of play seen in the Pac-12, Cooper wants to see her players conditioned to get up and down the court.

    "I like to run," Cooper said.

    The Trojans are focused on thriving off a competitive edge, an aggressive style of play and all-around toughness as a team and individuals. With a couple of months of offseason ball already under their belts, the team says this mentality is already taking shape.

    "I like to make basketball exciting to play and to watch -- fun for fans, fun for players," Cooper said." In practice, we do a lot of running with the ball. At the same time I like to be efficient in the backcourt and not just throw the ball up but get something out of our shot attempts. You can expect players that have bought in to really care about their sport and the university and the sport of basketball.

    That's exciting news for the Trojans. Another thing that the team hasn't experienced in a while is the luxury of having 11 healthy players return to this year's roster. Injury depletion has crushed USC's ability to make progress in past seasons, but with a strong and experienced roster led by seniors Harberts, Desireé Bradley, Kate Oliver and Rachel Totten, this year is shaping up to be a different story.

    Harberts is hitting her stride as she enters her senior season already named to the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 30 list and as a finalist for the 2014 Senior CLASS Award. She was an All-Pac-12 Team pick last year after averaging 18.0 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, which helped launch her into a new realm in being selected a member of the USA's World University Games team, winning gold in Russia this past summer. Last season, Harberts led the Trojans in points, rebounds, and blocks and finished third in the Pac-12 in points per game, while she also set USC records in free throws made (207) and attempted (298). She is currently No. 16 all-time at USC with 1,293 career points.

    "I think my game has developed a lot," Harberts said. "Just playing the World University Games with some of the top players in country was awesome, because you have to step up to their level of play and also internationally. But in this season so far, working with coach Cooper, she's seen my weaknesses. Now I'm taking those and developing them into strengths. I've worked on a lot of things that I wasn't necessarily good at before like going off of one foot and getting one step up to get a defender out. Also, being more efficient with my game and being stronger."

    Fellow senior Kate Oliver averaged 5.7 points per game and a 66.7 free-throw percentage last season. The Australian lefty brings a skillful shooting ability to the Trojan front court and saw much development in only her first season at USC last year. She and Harberts make for a dynamic and daunting presence at the post position, as both players boast an ability to pop out and knock down shots from distance. Their senior compatriots Bradley and Totten are primed for the perimeter in their final seasons as Trojans, as both are proven sharp-shooters for the Women of Troy.

    Lots of talent returns at the guard position with juniors Ariya Crook, Kiki Alofaituli and Alexyz Vaioletama and sophomore Brianna Barrett ready for another season. Crook averaged 13.4 points per game and received All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention after playing in 30 games for the Trojans last season. Barrett is coming off a fantastic freshman debut in which she finished the year with Pac-12 All-Freshman Honorable Mention and Pac-12 All-Defensive Honorable Mention. Off the injured list this season is highly touted guard Jordan Adams, who was a McDonald's All-American our of Mater Dei High before being sidelined by injury early last year. She's back in action to boost up the Trojan backcourt for 2013-14.

    "I think Jordan Adams is going to have a breakout year," Cooper said. "Ariya Crook has been fantastic, I've been getting on her case quite often to make sure she helps lead us this year. Kate Oliver is probably the most fundamentally sound player I've ever seen. She can knock down a step-back 3-pointer like the best of them and make it look so pretty. It's incredible to see someone at 6-4 do that."

    Additional youthful experience will come for the Trojans in the form of sophomore Destinie Gibbs and redshirt sophomore Deanna Calhoun, who bring another important depth charge to the USC roster along with the feisty Alofaituli and athletic Vaioletama.

    The Women of Troy only graduated one player from last year's squad, but it won't be an easy hole to fill. The Trojans need to find a way to replace Christina Marinacci, a force on the boards as USC's No. 9 all-time rebounder (738) and a stubborn defensive specialist. Don't be surprised to see freshman Drew Edelman step up to fill that role as a 6-foot-4 powerhouse under the basket. Fellow newcomer Courtney Jaco is fitting in nicely at the point guard position and can knock down 3-pointers like there's no tomorrow. Cooper is already been impressed by what these two newcomers have to offer.

    "Our freshmen are coming along extremely well," Cooper said. "Courtney Jaco and Drew Edelman, they've been really a joy to coach. I know Courtney is our 3-point shooter but we've played her at point guard position and she seems to have transitioned really well. She's so smart and crafty. She's created an environment where I can absolutely see her playing significant minutes. And Drew is just a force under that basket to be reckoned with."

    The Trojans are also excited to bring in transfers Kaneisha Horn and Alexis Lloyd to add to the already impressive roster. Horn, a junior transfer from Alabama, adds a new dynamic to the team and the program as a versatile forward that fits well all over the court. Horn is good to go this season, having finished her undergraduate degree in three years at Alabama. She has two seasons to play with the Trojans as she pursues a masters in social work. Lloyd will sit out the 2013-14 season after transferring from Virginia Tech.

    On the defensive side of the ball, the focus for the Women of Troy is on rebounding and getting up and down the court efficiently in transition. Echoing the emphasis on conditioning and quickness on the offensive side of the ball, Cooper says she will be implementing this fast tempo from day one.

    "We've worked on defense every practice, both man-to-man, zone and other things we want to do defensively," Cooper explained. "It's been a central focus of ours, so we're going to do different things that we hope will put us in a situation where we can get up and down the court more and not just play 30 or 20 seconds of half-court defense. The most important part for us has to be securing that rebound so we can get out on that fast break. Rebounding is going to be key. It's a work in progress."

    The Trojans came close but finished just missing the cut for the NCAA Tournament in the 2012-13 season. This year, USC will play 18 televised games, including a matchup with Stanford set for ESPN2 in late February. All told, USC will face eight teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last year, and will play a total of 12 regular-season contests against teams that were either ranked or receiving votes in the final national polls last season.

    "There's such parity in the conference now," Cooper said of the Pac-12. "You see UCLA and Stanford and Colorado and Cal, there's such parity, and now Washington and hopefully you'll see USC in the upper echelon of our conference here soon. I think for the first time the Pac-12 is making a huge statement nationally. When you look at what we've done in the NCAA Tournament, I think you're now starting to see West Coast basketball and Pac-12 teams get the respect nationally that we deserve."

    Women's basketball at USC has a rich tradition of excellence and success. The Trojans have appeared in four Final Fours, winning twice, and has featured stars like Lisa Leslie, Pam and Paula McGee, Cheryl Miller, Tina Thompson and Cynthia Cooper herself. The last time USC reached the NCAA tournament was in 2006.

    "Well I don't really want to bring back anything other than the mentality, the work ethic," Cooper said of tapping back into USC successful history. "I want this to be about current players and what they bring to the table and who they are. This is their program and they're the ones that are going to go out there on that court. I wanted to bring a winning culture mentality and attitude, a way that you practice, a way you step on the court, a way you wear cardinal and gold. But I also want players to know they have it inside them.

    "They have the talent; I'm just coaching them. I trust them when they go out on the court, I want them to know I believe in them and they should believe in themselves."