The Cooper boys basketball team was handed the opportunity to take the Target Center floor Jan. 5 for a star-studded affair that stretched well beyond the hard court.
North Carolina head men’s basketball coach Roy Williams was courtside, sitting next to Tubby Smith from Minnesota.
A few seats over was Fred Hoiberg, the former Timberwolves sharp-shooter and current Iowa State head coach.
What those observers may or may not have realized was this wasn’t going to be Cooper at its best, only because as daunting as the Target Center can be, it doesn’t hold much comparison to a regular season visit to Hopkins.
And not even 22 hours after making that their destination, Cooper’s journey into downtown for their match-up with Tyus Jones and his Apple Valley teammates was accompanied by some tired bodies.
“A lot of the guys were tired,” said Vaughn, who played all 36 minutes of both games, scoring over 70 points in the process. “We are still learning, and this will something to learn from. It was a pretty tough back-to-back.”
It was, to be frank, arguably the toughest back-to-back any team will play in Minnesota this year.
Hopkins is still Hopkins, while Apple Valley entered the season ranked No. 1 and has only slipped one spot while starting 8-1.
The Eagles eighth victory came Saturday over Cooper in a game that was a near carbon-copy of the previous nights result, and a microcosm to much of has ailed the Hawks so far this basketball season.
They’ve been good enough to hang around with the state’s best, but rarely has that lasted for all 36 minutes in what has been a 4-5 start to the year for Cooper.
“We are making progress,” said head coach Steve Burton. “The time that we are holding it together is getting better. We played 30 good minutes today, and that is more that we have been. Some of it is still learning. We have to realize that we really only have three guys with varsity experience, and sometimes you have to make sure we understand the moment of the game and what needs to happen at certain times of the game. We’ll get better.”
The Hawks already have improved some, but their expectations aren’t to just be better. As they put it on their way out of Target Center, they want to back in that building in March, winning a state championship
“That’s our goal,” said Vaughn.
Do get that type of opportunity, the onus will be on Vaughn to continue doing what he’s been doing, and on Burton to try and get his star some help.
Vaughn played all 36 minutes against both Hopkins and Apple Valley, and combined to score 71 points in the two games.
Thirty-five of those points came against the Eagles, which was exactly half the point total Cooper finished with.
“We are getting some experience playing in these games, and the guys we have around Rashad will be better because of it,” said Burton. “We just need to keep working at it. We’ve proven we can play with these teams. We can play at this level. We just need to do it for 36 minutes.”
The opportunities to put together an entire game will have to come against primarily conference opponents the rest of the way.
Cooper has played just one North Suburban Conference game thus far – a 75-50 victory at Totino-Grace Dec. 21 – but 15 of the 17 games remaining on the schedule will come in league play.
That starts this week with a Jan. 8 bus ride to North Brand and a Jan. 10 trip to St. Francis.
“It will be good for us to get into the conference and start working on our goal of winning a conference championship,” said Vaughn. “We want to be champions, and that starts with winning the conference.”