Cooper’s debut a solid one in close loss to Tonka

Cooper junior Rashad Vaughn carries the ball up the court during the Hawks 78-71 loss to Minnetonka Dec. 8. Vaughn had 15 points in the game. (Photo by Nick Clark – Sun Newspapers)

It was going to be a start, Cooper basketball coach Steve Burton warned.

Nothing more, nothing less.

And while the jam-packed west gym at Minnetonka High School portrayed an atmosphere that had a state tournament-type buzz to it, there wasn’t going to be a ton to take out of what was the 2012-13 debut for both Burton, and his Hawks.

Other than, of course, a starting point.

“More than anything, this offers us a chance to really see where we are at,” said Burton, who is in his first year as Cooper’s head coach. “This is Game 1 of 26. There is a long ways to go, and we have a long ways to go as a team.”

Their immediate direction will likely be up.

Cooper played well in its opener, losing to Minnetonka 79-71 during the nightcap of the Tip-Off Breakdown Classic Dec. 8.

It was the third-game of the season for the ninth-ranked Skippers, so there was an advantage to speak of for Tonka. But Cooper stayed within five during a hectic first half, then hung around long enough to make the last few minutes interesting.

Senior forward Lavar McCullough  led the Hawks with a 26-point performance. Junior Rashad Vaughn, who played in the opener in front of Kentucky coach John Calipari, scored 15 points, and senior guard Billy Kellogg added 10.

“Those three are going to have to be our guys,” said Burton. “Everybody knows about Rashad, but Lavar is a really underrated player, and Billy is just has the demeanor you love as s coach. We’re going to need those guys because, after them, we have some ninth-graders and even an eighth-grader that might see the floor, so we might need some time.”

There is plenty of it. While most teams were on the floor by early last week, Cooper’s debut was pushed until Saturday.

They were the last team in the entire state to play their first official game, but the wait was worth it for Burton.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I’ve been enjoying practice. It’s been a lot of fun to have my own team.”

He takes over for Dave Johnson, who guided the team for nearly four years. Burton’s first order of business was giving some direction to the group of athletes he was coaching, primarily telling them to play to their strengths.

“We have a lot of athletes, and we want to use them properly,” Burton said. “We want to play aggressive ball. They want to run, so I told them, it is called controlled chaos. You run with a purpose.”

They’ll need that purpose early in the season, as the schedule offers little chance to breath.

The opener against No. 9 Tonka started a string in which six of their first seven games come against ranked opponents.

Cooper was scheduled to play next at No. 8 Wayzata at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14. The next afternoon, they visit Class 3A No. 7 Minneapolis Washburn at 2:15 p.m.

Then next week, the Hawks play at Class 1A No. 1 Maranatha Christian Academy Dec. 18, and they’ll get both Hopkins and Apple Valley the first week of January.

“It’s tough, but our kids like it that way,” said Burton. “We want to play good teams. That makes us better. We have to be ready to compete, and be ready to bring our effort. Because we know if we don’t, things won’t go our way.”