By Lauren Walsh SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Gabby Cooper chases down the ball and collides with Wake Forest guard Ariel Stephenson. Cooper grabs her right ankle, winces, and hobbles up on one foot. She slowly eases her right leg down and hesitantly walks to center court, never once looking over to the sideline or at a trainer.
Cooper is described by her teammates as “tough.” That toughness shows when she plays basketball, but it was molded off the court.
Gabby Cooper grew up in Lansing, Illinois. “Lansing is a nice little suburb, I guess,” said Cooper. “I mean, it has its days where it has bad things, but, I don’t know, it’s good. It’s quiet sometimes. It’s kind of everything.”
Gabby Cooper had a “normal” childhood, as she described it. She spent her days riding her bicycle, playing at parks, and of course, playing basketball.
“I had a rim in front of my house and every day, every summer, it’d be me and like twenty other kids just playing basketball from sun up to sundown,” said Cooper.
The freshman guard certainly had a special relationship with the sport, picking it up from her two older brothers, but the most important relationship in her life was the one she had with her father.
“My mom worked a lot and my dad was on disability because he hurt his back, and so it was me and my dad every day, like every day, so I was a real big daddy’s girl,” Cooper said.
Just before her twelfth birthday, her cherished days with her dad were cut short. Gabby Cooper’s father passed away in 2011 from what doctors believed to be sarcoidosis, the same disease Bernie Mac had. Sarcoidosis is a chronic disease characterized by the enlargement of lymph nodes. Cooper said doctors were unsure exactly what caused his death, but she never asked many questions about it.
“He basically had a cough, so I never thought I’d wake up one morning and get a call like that or whatever, but you know, you gotta cherish what you have because it won’t always be there.”
Gabby Cooper’s father only saw her play basketball twice before his time expired. However, Cooper found a way to keep her father with her every time she steps on the court.
“Well, I wear number eleven because of that,” said Cooper. “I was eleven, it was 2011… I feel like it just made me tougher.”
The number eleven on her jersey connects Gabby Cooper to her father every time she suits up for Syracuse.
“I think he would be proud,” said Cooper. “I think he would be extremely proud.”
Coach Quentin Hillsman is certainly proud of the work Cooper has put in so far this year. Despite only coaching her for one year, Coach “Q” sees the potential and work ethic in the Illinois native.
“Very persistent and relentless,” said Hillsman. “You know, she’s a scorer and you have to be very persistent in your effort and trying to find your role in our system and in our team. She’s a freshman and she’s done that.”
Cooper was named to the ACC All-Freshman team on Thursday. She led all ACC freshmen in three-point field goals made with 62.