LOS ANGELES (AP) — Basketball has taken Cynthia Cooper-Dyke around the world, and now the Hall of Fame player is back home at Southern California.
She was introduced as the Trojans’ new women’s coach on Tuesday, returning to her alma mater where she helped USC win back-to-back national championships in 1983 and ’84.
“She really is a Trojan icon,” athletic director Pat Haden said.
Cooper-Dyke was greeted by cheers at Galen Center, where nine of her former teammates were among the crowd. They hooted and hollered as she was introduced by Haden, who hired her last week to replace Michael Cooper. The former Los Angeles Lakers star, who is no relation, quit last month after four seasons.
“Woo, that’s what I’m talking about,” a smiling Cooper-Dyke said, looking in the direction of her former teammates. “I am so incredibly excited. I wanted to be home, I wanted to be here. Without a doubt, this is my dream job. I hope I’m right.”
The 49-year-old grew up in Los Angeles. After starring as a guard with Cheryl Miller and twin sisters Pam and Paula McGee at USC, Cooper-Dyke won four WNBA championships with the Houston Comets, and played professionally in Spain and Italy.
“USC, the Los Angeles community now has a legend in their midst,” Pam McGee said. “Who wouldn’t want their daughter to play for Cynthia Cooper?”
As a coach, Cooper-Dyke had a 150-106 record in eight seasons at Texas Southern, North Carolina-Wilmington, and Prairie View A&M, where she earned a bachelor’s degree. Cooper-Dyke coached the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury for 1 1/2 seasons, going 19-23.
“It’s really great to have her back in the Trojan family,” Haden told the crowd as Cooper-Dyke whispered to him. “She never left,” he added hastily.
Members of the current USC team were on hand a day after their first workouts with Cooper-Dyke.
“It’s going to be a new Coop era in a sense,” junior forward Cassie Harberts said. “She brings a lot of positive energy to the program and last year we struggled with that.”
USC finished 11-20 this season under Michael Cooper. He was 72-57 with the Trojans, who never reached the NCAA tournament under his leadership.
“I feel a certain level of responsibility and pressure to get the program to where we belong and have that national respect,” Cooper-Dyke said. “It’s my job to teach and motivate and develop a winning mentality.”
Pam McGee, whose son JaVale McGee plays for the Denver Nuggets, made some calls on Cooper-Dyke’s behalf as she was pursuing the job.
“It is our obligation to support our sister,” McGee said of her and their other teammates. “We will do whatever we need to do to make her a success because she’s a reflection of us. The women’s program is going to make a great splash.”
Cooper-Dyke recalled that the USC teams she played on brought “a kind of strut” to the court, believing they could win every game.
“If there’s one thing I would like this team to have is just my toughness, be resilient and be able to finish games strong,” she said.
“We’ll be feisty. We’re going to play some defense. I know that’s funny to my old teammates. They’re like, `Coop didn’t play any defense,’ but I can coach defense. We want to be on top of the Pac-12 and be a national powerhouse.”
Cooper-Dyke said she wants to land the most local recruits, adding, “I’m on fire about it.”