Shayla Cooper was playing basketball before she was born.
Well, kind of.
“My mom played basketball with me until she was like six months pregnant or something like that,” Cooper explained. “I first picked up a basketball when I was (three-years-old) and I was playing basketball when I was in the third grade.”
Cooper started receiving college offers while playing AAU basketball in middle school. She discovered quickly she had the talent to pursue her passion, maybe even all the way to the pros.
“I always had dreams of playing professionally so once I made it to the collegiate level, it was a major step in the right direction and after my college career came to an end, I had agents reaching out to me for the possibility of playing professional basketball,” Cooper said.
This past season, the 6-foot-2 forward completed her senior season at Ohio State where led the Buckeyes with 8.1 rebounds per game in her senior season. In her junior season, Cooper was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team.
Although Cooper has no collegiate eligibility left, her basketball journey isn’t done.
Cooper was invited to attend the WNBA Draft on Thursday night in New York City where her lifelong dream of joining a WNBA team could come true.
“I feel like having my name called, that's going to be one of the biggest moments of my life,” Cooper said.
When thinking about being chosen by a team, transitioning to wherever her new home may be and her first day of workouts with her team, Cooper couldn’t contain her excitement for the next chapter in her life.
“I feel like my eyes are going to be so wide open,” Cooper said. “I'm eager to learn because I know it's a new part of the game, so I'm pretty sure a lot of stuff I have to learn and I'm just excited to have something that I love possibly being a job for me. I feel like I won't see it as a job (even though) I can get income from it, because it’s something I love to do."
To make basketball career go as far as Cooper has, passion is key.
But Cooper admits that passion isn’t always unwavering.
"It's like a love-hate relationship,” Cooper said. “Sometimes you hate it because you have to workout so much, but then you love it. My passion for the game is probably a passion that I'll never have for anything else. It's like love at first sight I felt like. It's just so much fun to do and it was always there for me like when I was frustrated I can always go play basketball. It keeps me going."
One of the things that keeps Cooper motivated when she doesn’t want to practice is the community of young basketball players she’s influenced back home in Norcross, Ga.
Before Ohio State, Cooper played at Norcross High School, helping her team win the state championship in the 2010-2011 season and reach the championship again in the 2012-2013 season as team captain.
Norcross High School taught Cooper, along with former teammate and current Lady Vol Diamond DeShields, to inspire the next generation to work hard for their future.
"(Norcross) still impacts me,” Cooper said. "I feel like we were able to leave a legacy there and that impacted me to want to keep going, knowing that I impact little kids and make them want to go to college and play basketball. Because if basketball doesn’t work out, at least you can get to college and get an education that can open up more possibilities for you. They inspire me to just keep going. You know, something in the back of my mind to keep me going.”
DeShields, a junior at Tennessee, did not declare for the WNBA Draft, deciding to stay for her senior season with the Lady Vols.