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Basketball COVID-19 St. Anthony

FEATURE: Kendall Cooper’s Basketball Season Ends Before it Begins in Australia

As far back as Kendall Cooper can remember, this is the longest she’s ever gone without touching a basketball. For the better part of a month, the former McDonald’s All-American has been kept off the court where she’s made her name. Her talent and on the hardwood helped her become one of the best players to ever set foot at St. Anthony High School, took her across the country to Duke University, and ultimately provided her with a professional playing career overseas. However, due to the global shutdown of professional sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s got time on her hands, instead of a basketball.

Cooper’s playing career since college has already been a whirlwind experience. In her three years since leaving Duke, she has already played on five different continents, starting in Europe with her professional debut in Nice, France. Her experience there was less than ideal, with her coach and top two teammates leaving the team mid-season, as well as financial difficulties plaguing the club.

Her second opportunity proved to be much more fruitful playing in Calis, France, where the team was much more competitive. She then played a brief season in Puerto Rico, followed by a month with a team in Tunisia which gave her the opportunity to play a tournament in Dubai. Finally, at the start of 2020 she found herself in Australia preparing for her first season with the Hawthorn Magic.

Cooper was able to participate in preseason play with her team, but the regular season was postponed two days before it was scheduled to begin. The news of her departure was handed to Cooper abruptly, and she was boarding a plane for home just days later.

“I had gone into the office with the other imports on a Tuesday to discuss some other matters,” Cooper recalled. “We left for a five minute break and when we came back the general manager said ‘Coach and I have made the decision to send you home’ and we were like ‘Oh…okay.’ The plan was to get us out as early as possible because we don’t know what’s going on with travel bans and the flight restrictions.”

The team originally tried to get Cooper and her foreign teammates sent home that Thursday, but the logistics were too difficult to pull together. Instead, she departed Australia on Sunday, the day of her team’s scheduled season opener, and arrived back home some 14 hours later.

Australia made international news when it was revealed that actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had both tested positive for coronavirus while in the country shooting a movie. While that may have raised eyebrows back in America during a time in which confirmed cases of the disease were still relatively low, Cooper said she wasn’t paying too much attention to the budding health crisis, and was instead focused on basketball and getting to know her new teammates.

“I probably should have paid more attention to the news because I wasn’t very concerned about it at the time,” she admitted. “I went out to social settings and didn’t stay in the house or anything like that, and now looking back on it it’s really unfortunate that the whole thing has come down to this.”

While in Hawthorn—a suburb of Melbourne—Cooper stayed with a host family that had two daughters playing basketball in the younger levels of the club. She had her own space out in the pool house, and was able to take a dip in the pool whenever she pleased. She says it was an easier adjustment than in previous stops, and she was enjoying her brief time there.

“I felt more welcome there because they speak English,” she explained. “It took me a while to get used to the accent, they have a lot of slang words and they abbreviate literally everything.”

Cooper confirmed that given the opportunity to play the season in Australia she would definitely go back. The initial plan from Basketball Victoria—the league Hawthorn competes in—was to start the winter season on May 2. That appears to be a lofty goal, but Cooper plans to stay as ready as possible in case she gets the chance to play this season.

“There’s a park around here that I can go to and do workouts on my phone,” said Cooper. “I can’t get to a court, unfortunately, and something about me just refuses to go to an outdoor court, but ball is life so I guess I’ve got to get over that at some point.”

With all of her extra time at home, Cooper is hoping to learn French, having only picked up a little bit of the language while playing in France. When she’s not looking at old highlights and fantasizing about being back on the court, she’s also taken the opportunity to watch a bunch of horror movies. Just trying to make the best of a life without basketball.

“Overseas you have a lot of free time on your hands,” Cooper said. “You learn to be alone for extended periods of time. So in some ways, it’s nothing new.”

Tyler Hendrickson
Tyler Hendrickson was born and raised in Long Beach, and started covering sports in his hometown in 2010. After five years as a sportswriter, Tyler joined the athletic department at Long Beach State University in 2015. He spent more than four years in the athletic communications department, working primarily with the Dirtbags baseball program. Tyler also co-authored of The History of Long Beach Poly: Scholars & Champions.