Cooper and Co., have added excitement and championships to the Valley


Above: Coach Eric Cooper, right, has created a strong program at La Verne Lutheran High School with the help of his newphew C.J. Cooper, left, and son Eric Cooper Jr., right. (Leo Jarzomb)

By Fred J. Robledo Staff Writer
It’s probably safe to assume what the La Verne Lutheran High School boys basketball team did in coach Eric Cooper’s first season was one of the biggest turnarounds in CIF-Southern Section history. Before Cooper’s arrival in 2007, the Trojans were 7-12 and finished near the bottom of the Arrowhead League standings. A year later the Trojans won 28 consecutive games with an infusion of new talent to take the CIF-SS Division V-AA title and finished the season 29-1 after losing to Price in the state playoffs.


If someone gave an award for most improved, they could have given the Trojans the trophy after the first game. But naturally, the age-old assumption of illegal recruiting came with it and many wondered how a small school could load up on so much talent so quickly.

“That part always bothered me,” Cooper said of alleged wrongdoings. “I have a solid coaching background, have been respected everywhere I’ve been and then you hear that stuff.

“I had enemies when I never had enemies before. When people sit down and talk and listen to why I came and what we’re doing here, they understand pretty quickly that we’re here to give the kids a great education and give them them all the (basketball) knowledge and experience that our coaching staff brings.”

Last season Lutheran advanced to the CIF-SS Division V-AA finals, where it lost to Windward.

This season Lutheran beat Windward on a buzzer-beater by Bruce English to win the CIF-SS Division 5AA championship, its second title in three years.

The Trojans (26-8) now are a game away from competing for the CIF-State Division V championship with a rematch against Windward (26-8) in Saturday’s Southern California Regional final at Colony High at 3:15 p.m.

Cooper’s nephew, junior C.J. Cooper, has been part of all of it, arriving as a freshman and playing the biggest role in the turnaround, something that isn’t so unrealistic when a coach has a highly sought college recruit playing in a small high school division.

“I thought it would be great to put this school on the map,” C.J. Cooper said. “Playing for my uncle, now with my cousin, and guys I know, it’s been a dream.”

With a student enrollment generously listed at 155, the Trojans have become a Southland basketball powerhouse with a handful of players college scouts are drooling over, and that includes freshman Eric Cooper Jr., Cooper’s son.

Those wondering how the dynasty has been forming need look no further than the Cooper family.

“It’s not that complicated really,” Eric Cooper Sr. said. “This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. It was the right time in my life to do this.”

A few years ago Cooper had no interest in high school coaching. He was playing professionally in Europe. He played at L.A. Banning, for Lute Olsen at Arizona and then overseas for nearly a decade.

Then he got into coaching as an ABA assistant to Scott Brooks, who now is head coach of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. Cooper also was an assistant with the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA.

“You know what changed?” Cooper said. “My son (Eric) was growing up quickly and he was seeing me more on television than in person.

“Something was wrong with that picture. It didn’t sit right with me, so I made the decision to coach in (AAU) to be closer to him and also help with his development as a player.”

Cooper’s AAU teams took off. His Rising Stars of America team, sponsored by the Clippers’ Baron Davis, won the U-12 national championship in 2005, a team that C.J. Cooper played on.

“He played but he wasn’t much of a factor,” Cooper recalls. “It bothered him. He was my nephew and he wasn’t playing much.”

A short time later, Cooper recalled a conversation with C.J. that changed everything.

“He’s worked to become who he is,” Cooper said. “There was a day in the park when he asked me what he had to do to get better and I made a pact that I would give him all the knowledge and time that I could give him, but that he had to do everything his uncle says.

“If that meant working out eight hours a day and four and five hours a day during the summer, that’s what he had to do.

“My son (Eric) idolized him. He was going to do whatever C.J. did, so the both of them made that commitment and I made it to them. That was before C.J.’s eighth-grade year. By the time he was a freshman, he was one of the best (in the country) in his age group.” C.J. Cooper attended small private elementary schools, so when it was time to enroll in high school he and some of his friends in AAU decided to enroll at Lutheran, which at the time had big plans of building a state-of-the-art gym, which never materialized.

“When they were making that decision (to attend Lutheran) I was in China, something I had done for years, taking teams on tour there,” Cooper said. “When I found out Lutheran didn’t have a coach the summer before C.J.’s freshman year, I inquired about it. I talked to the athletic director, I talked to CIF to find out what the guidelines were because I had been coaching in AAU.

“Once we worked everything out I thought what a great situation. I’m coaching my nephew and can coach my son when he gets here.”

Not just that, Cooper’s background in professional sports and reputation on the youth circuit prompted several more standout players to enroll, such as English and 6-foot-8 sophomore Grant Jerrett.

“Mostly everyone who came here started as freshman,” Cooper said. “I’m coaching my nephew, my son and whoever else comes along for the ride. “What you have are parents and players that realize I have a lot of professional head coaching experience and a ton of knowledge that I want to share. If you play for me, I’m going to give you everything I’ve got, which is why you’ve seen the players we have come here.”

C.J. Cooper averages 15 points and Jerrett 18 to lead the Trojans. Both are being heavily recruited.

Eric Cooper Jr., a 6-foot-2 guard, is averaging 7.0 points per game because of a sore knee. UCLA coach Ben Howland already has watched him play and his father said his son probably will get scholarship offers from several schools.

“What you have to understand is this just doesn’t happen,” Cooper said. “These kids work extremely hard in school and practice. They’re honing their game and doing their school work every day.

“That’s the price you have to pay. A lot of players have talent, but you have to be willing to pay the price to take the next step and that’s what they’ve done. That’s what everyone on this team does. They put in the work. We demand it and they do it.”

Cooper is hoping the negative stigma that surrounds the Trojans’ success some day will go away, but he realizes it probably won’t, a stigma that schools such as Mater Dei have dealt with for decades.

During Lutheran’s championship runs it has never been flagged by the CIF-SS for illegal recruiting or had a player declared ineligible for athletically motivated reasons. Yet the perception remains.

“I guess it’s going to be there,” Cooper said. “All we can do is play basketball.”

With a state title appearance a game away, his focus is where it always has been, on his team and its players.

“It’s the next step,” Cooper said. “These guys have earned the right to have this opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to cap their season with a state title?”

fred.robledo@sgvn.com 626-962-8811, ext. 2161

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  • Cooper for COY

    Better late than never huh Fred?

    Complete disgrace by The Tribune that they haven’t embraced LVL’s program more openly. Not ranking them or openly debating ranking them in The Tribune’s Top Ten is paramount to cronyism at it’s worst.

    Not sure why it happened but Im just glad to see Cooper handling it with so openly. Makes you wonder what he will do for an encore.

    Best of luck to the Trojans.

  • FredJ

    They have been covered more than half the teams in the Valley. In the Pasadena tourney, nonleague game at Price, number of times in the playoffs. Think you’re the first to complain about coverage? We rarely cover teams in outside tournaments, because we have our own tournaments to cover. Once league starts, covering our traditional valley leagues are more appealing that Lutheran’s blowouts in league they win by 30 points.

  • Good answer work question

    Issue #1 “embraced more openly”

    Issue #2 “openly debating ranking them”

    Want to address those points?

  • FredJ

    Sure, we were ranking them by the middle of the season. We don’t rank Ganesha or Pomona either, but we rank Diamond Ranch, and all three are in Pomona. It’s agreeing with the other newspapers in our group which schools we consider crossover schools when it comes to rankings, all-area, etc, and which schools on our bordering coverage areas should belong to certain newspapers in those regards, like Pomona and Garey. The schools on the border have the benefit of being covered by multiple newspapers, whereas teams in the heart of the Valley just have our local paper. Lutheran came on so quick so fast that they were in that fringe area. We would cover their games and share stories with the Bulletin, but have finally decided that we will include them in both rankings, and all-area teams.

  • FredJ

    As far as embraced more openly, not sure what your mean about that. Success or no success, teams that we feel create the most reader interest along with team success are the most appealing to us. You know, when all this started, I was the one advocating that area teams play Lutheran, and still feel that way. You give me a Lutheran-Damien game and we’ll make it a big deal. You give me Lutheran-Sherman Indian, what are we supposed to do with that? When they play big showcase games hours away, that’s not as appealing as a big game in our Valley, as far as readership is concerned.

  • valley watcher

    I am deeply saddened that you have caved to this program and man that obviously cheated. Just because CIF hasn’t punished them doesn’t mean they are clean! He admitted how they used the back door to make all this happen. Do you think it was an accident that they went to LVL when they didn’t have a coach? I didn’t think so either! That is the back door. Kids show up from his AAU team and then he becomes coach? You can’t really believe that was coincidence can you? Our society says do whatever it takes to win. I guess that is why Freddy is now going to embrace them as well. Very dissapointed!

  • Voice of the Trojans

    Lutheran has been covered more than half the teams in the valley?

    Really?

    That is a sad indictment of the way your department serves the high school sports fans of the valley.

    Some boxscores and a few sentences at the end of an article about the Bishop Amat girls team regarding LVL qualifies as coverage?

    Pity the poor schools that got less coverage than that.

    Granted there are teams that must be covered…Amat and CO football, Glendora basketball and Northview baseball among others. I would say LaVerne Lutheran basketball fits this criteria also.

    My problem isn’t just the lack of coverage for a local powerhouse basketball team.

    What happened to stories about student athletes? I know that Damien student/athletes get many more academic scholarships than athletic. That would make an interesting story.

    How about a piece about non-traditional powers or a story about a student/athlete who overcomes some adversity?

    These stories are out there. Just look for them.

  • FredJ

    It’s a private school, club players get together and do this all the time, and when you enroll as freshman, you enroll as freshman, which is the case with almost all of Lutheran’s players. In some ways this is what happened with the Bishop Amat girls soccer teams overnight success, a very well known connected club and community college coach took over there and players flocked. I don’t get your point in getting all worked up over a coach that is working hard, whose players are working hard and are doing well in the classroom. If this helps them get scholarships, more power to them. At the end of the day coach Cooper has a great coaching background, great staff and connections. If I’m a parent of a blue chip athlete and can afford private schools, that is appealing.

  • FredJ

    Trojan Voice, the harsh realities are we’re not the paper we were 20 years ago. We don’t have ten reporters on staff and midnight deadlines. Papers are in survival mode, which means we cater to the readership more than ever, where do you think a school with 155 students and virtually no athletic history in the valley falls in that category? The bottom line is that during the season, there are far more appealing games for us to cover with area teams playing area teams in area league games. By the time the playoffs come and we get deeper into the playoffs, Lutheran becomes more relevant to us. If you don’t think that’s fair, join the club. That of course would all change if we had a big Lutheran-Damien, Lutheran-Bonita or Lutheran-Glendora game. Or Lutheran in a local tournament. That’s something I can’t make happen, coaches and administrators need to do it, and if they do, I can’t think of a more attractive non-league game that one of the traditional heavyweights taking on Lutheran. But man, it’s like trying to get Pacquiao and Mayweather in the ring. It’s the fight everyone wants to see, but bravado and politics rule the day.

  • Aaron

    What about that girls team from Calvary Baptist?

    They didn’t get much coverage, I didn’t see people complaining about that. The SGV Tribune is a business and during the regular season it makes more sense to cover Bonita and Damien more of the three schools. Not only are there many more Bonita and Damien people that purchase the paper, but also the people that send their children to schools in the League’s that Damien and Bonita play in will read about them.

    Bonita and Damien are an example because Lutheran is also in La Verne.

    Great Schools . net stats:
    Bonita-1899 students
    Damien-1196 students
    La Verne Lutheran-187 students

    So tell me, within La Verne should there be a greater demand for stories about Faith Lutheran High School (La Verne) or about the other two schools?

  • Better effort still the same problem

    Fred now you’ve come full circle. No one is scheduling LVL and with the paper’s very public decision to openly discuss a collective up or down vote on their inclusion into ranking, well that just gave credence to the non racial, mostly social economic (wink wink) grumblings of the less than open minded among us.

    Three years and they’re getting bigger and better and have D1 coaches at their practices…isn’t that in and of itself a story? This isn’t a put odwn of any other programs as Bonita, Damien, CO, SH, Nogales, SD and BA all had great seasons, the point is why feed morons who attack a well respect coach who has taken time off, at considerable less $$$, to help his son.

    Valley Watcher for the first to sentences I thougt you were talking about Obama but then I lifted the white sheet draped over your comments and realized you were talking about LVL basketball and no the White House. At least that’s the way talk like that comes across!

    Finally Fred you do the SGV no favors by hiding a great program rather than acknowledging one.

  • Better effort still the same problem

    Fred now you’ve come full circle. No one is scheduling LVL and with the paper’s very public decision to openly discuss a collective up or down vote on their inclusion into ranking, well that just gave credence to the non racial, mostly social economic (wink wink) grumblings of the less than open minded among us.

    Three years and they’re getting bigger and better and have D1 coaches at their practices…isn’t that in and of itself a story? This isn’t a put odwn of any other programs as Bonita, Damien, CO, SH, Nogales, SD and BA all had great seasons, the point is why feed morons who attack a well respect coach who has taken time off, at considerable less $$$, to help his son.

    Valley Watcher for the first to sentences I thougt you were talking about Obama but then I lifted the white sheet draped over your comments and realized you were talking about LVL basketball and no the White House. At least that’s the way talk like that comes across!

    Finally Fred you do the SGV no favors by hiding a great program rather than acknowledging one.

  • Better effort still the same problem

    Fred now you’ve come full circle. No one is scheduling LVL and with the paper’s very public decision to openly discuss a collective up or down vote on their inclusion into ranking, well that just gave credence to the non racial, mostly social economic (wink wink) grumblings of the less than open minded among us.

    Three years and they’re getting bigger and better and have D1 coaches at their practices…isn’t that in and of itself a story? This isn’t a put odwn of any other programs as Bonita, Damien, CO, SH, Nogales, SD and BA all had great seasons, the point is why feed morons who attack a well respect coach who has taken time off, at considerable less $$$, to help his son.

    Valley Watcher for the first to sentences I thougt you were talking about Obama but then I lifted the white sheet draped over your comments and realized you were talking about LVL basketball and no the White House. At least that’s the way talk like that comes across!

    Finally Fred you do the SGV no favors by hiding a great program rather than acknowledging one.

  • In the know

    Please…valley watcher…you don’t have all the facts to make judgement. You criticize Fred for “caving in,” and you really don’t have a clue, your caving into gossip and false statements. I know…I was there. Cooper even offerred to leave but he was granted the OK to stay by those that uphold the athletic rules and standards. He is an upstanding man who teaches so much more than basketball…he teaches academics and character. Trojan Family…most of you know who this is. My Spirit burns bright for you, your my boys!!! God’s Blessings!!! Go Trojans!!!

  • FredJ

    Amazing, a front page story on the teams success today, yet you still complain about us hiding them? What do you want me to do, apologize for not covering every aspect of Lutheran basketball?

  • Tech Support

    Fred,

    It’s a shame you did not include in your article what they plan to have for the pre-game meal against Winward. One again slighting this great powerhouse of a program with a storied tradition.

  • Cooper for COY

    Fred it’s just about the second to the last game of the season, in the third year of their run. Is that being straight up with them. Let’s use an example of what a story is or isn’t.

    Dog bites man or man bites dog? Both stories but which one would you write about?

    LVL hires former Pro basketball player with coaching stints all over the world and transforms a small private school or small private school gets the cold shoulder from area teams…all area team….some in the same city.

    Which is a story worth writing about? If the local coaches shut out LVL next year it’ll be a four year old story…great job!

  • In the know

    Fred…. No one is complaining about the story done today. It was just sad as a fan to see your little small private school ranked in the top 25 for LA times throughout the season barely given recognition here. I’m sure you can see our point…it seemed as if the “complainers” against Lutheran were winning the Political Battle in reference to coverage. I’m sure the teams that won’t play were thrilled to see the lack of attention and favor given towards LHS. It doesn’t really matter in the end in the scheme of things: the deserving players at Lutheran will get their scholarships either way, the won their CIF ss title either way, they are playing in the So Cal regionals on Saturday either way, and they will continue to press on either way. Thanks again for the great article today! Go Trojans!!!

  • Tech Support

    To all complaining,

    It is getting old. Fred gave the reason and it makes a lot of sense. LVL plays a vast majority of games OUT of the area. With the type of staffing at local papers it would be hard to get people to drive 3 hours to cover a blowout when you have local games matching competitive teams. When they played big time competition (Price) they got covered. When they made a deep playoff run they got covered.

    Now maybe local coaches don’t want to play them. Frankly I wouldn’t either. They are a different team than the vast majority of SGV basketball. That’s no accusation of HOW they got the players they did. But the fact is the team has more in common with the Prices, Winwards, and Ren Academy than Bonita, Damien, and Glendora. But if you want the Trib to come to games, make them a combination of competitive and local. And if nobody local will play them then suck it up and consider yourself lucky you’re still able to go watch you team play this late in the year.

  • socal hoops fan

    How good would LVL be if they had Keith Shamburger who played at LVL. He is now the leader of Serra high school. Another big man Jordan Salley would have given LVL more inside game. To bad he missed the season with an ACL injury.

  • Recruiting Central

    Is this the Kieth Shamburger that played on Quick Shot (Coopers AAU team) and took public transportation from Long Beach every morning to attend LVL? Or Jordan Salley that transferred into LVL?

  • bottom line

    as others have said-Fred great story on a great team, they deserve the credit they get.
    Without taking anything away from LVL, they-the players are not from the city of La Verne(yeah, yeah city counsel stuff aside)or the area, so guess what, there not the same connection as the other LV schools and residents and readers. Fred’s real world comment about the business of newspapers and how they survive becomes clear. Coverage is balanced and what it is for many reasons. time to move on.

  • Cooper for COY

    Look up the word compelling. Fred’s nonsensical explanation is just a a side stepping or is it a lock stepping response. The story is the lack of acceptance by area school. Plain and simple. Reporters find the answers to questions and “don’t ignore them”. Pretending the question hasn’t been asked is not journalism. Pretending code words don’t betray bloggers true feeling is pathetic. They aren’t from around these parts? Really? Since when did private schools require a 10 mile litmus test for acceptance? This story should have been written last year when the issues of recruiting were being weighed against their remarkable assent into a top tier program with numerous D1 prospects. Cooper had his say. I understand his logic and respect his methods even more knowing why he made his decision and how demanding he is of his players, all of them. Best of luck Saturday, I’ll be there as I was last year…seeing for myself.

    Fred wouldn’t the irony be if LVL wins State and LVL wasn’t in the year long rankings and Cooper doesn’t win COY? Wow wouldn’t that be something!

  • c’mon now

    You know Lutheran, lets put them in simple terms, UCLA basketball having its worst year in a history would get more coverage in the LA Times than CS Fulletons or Loyola Marymounts, even if those schools went 29-1 It’s called supply and demand, the Times is going to cater to their Bruins readership, guaranteed.

  • Look at the Roster

    What happened to the La Verne kids that were on his first team at Lutheran, because I know for a fact they did not play a single minute for him the next season.

  • lvbballfan

    Fred I like the article but it is a little late. This team should have been covered for three years. If high school sports is such a huge factor in attracting readers then maybe you should have more reporters instead of covering something else. You are really making a mountain out of a mole hill here. Nobody expects you to send a reporter to cover one valley team in vegas or a game vs sherman indian, but how hard is it to call a coach after the game? One phone call or text or email could get you the score, some stats, and a key to the outcome. That would make a nice paragraph you could put on the second page and allow you to cover all of the elite teams in the area

  • Once upon a time…

    In the early 80′s there was a BIG man named Gary McNight. He was an uncredentialed teacher at Mater Dei, but coached lower level basketball at Ocean View. He also coached in an AAU program called South Coast with players from all over the southland. He was given the head basketball job at Mater Dei and, lo & behold,players like Tom Lewis (Capistrano Valley, Mike Mitchell (Gahr), Jim Dwyer (Jr High) either transferred or enrolled and became the cornerstone of their early dominance. The only diffrenece is they blended with some players who were already there (Matt Beeasuwert- Notre Dame/Cal) and at a school that had some previous athletic success. Instead of a nondescripted school on the verge of closing with zero athletic tradition. While never found guilty of any wrong-doing, the perception is probably closer to reality than coincidence.

    In the decades since Mater Dei is almost a curse word among the local OC schools and certain districts even have guidelines AGAINST playing them in any sport. Sam thing has happened and is happening here with LVL it terms of the genesis of the program. Stinks anyway you look at it.

    Just because the coach says he was respected everywhere does not make it so. Go talk to some AAU folks. Quick Shot stories abound. The master plan for the gym did not precede the coach, as mentioned in the article, it was after his arrival. And if you think his nephew planned on attending their before he became the coach – I’ve got some future ocean front desert land to sell you. The way he tried to spin that story is laughable. Remember-if it looks like a duck-and walks like a duck-it’s probably a duck.

  • No one likes them

    Let’s face it. No one likes them anyway. Who cares about these guys ?

    The funny part is that when they do get coverage, they cry because they think it’s not enough.

    Waaa waaa waaa

  • Stop the hate

    To Rumor Central (aka recruiting central)

    Yes Keith Shamberger who is Serra’s star player played for the Quick Shot program.

    So did Etiwanda’s star Byron Wesley and Corona Centennial” star Gelaun Wheelwright.

    I guess the last two weren’t good enough for Cooper to recruit.

    Give it a rest dude!

  • Trojan fan said:

    said:Lutheran 52 Windward 50 congrats to both teams for a hard played game by both teams ,who said that you cannot pack colony with two Div 5 teams, hats off to all the fans that came to see a high caliber and intense game ,next stop Bakersfield ,lets bring a stae title to the SGV! Go Trojans!