McEachern guard Sharife Cooper (2, right) celebrates with teammates advancing to the Class AAAAAAA state basketball championship with a win over Norcross Saturday, March 2, 2019 in Buford.
Photo: Jason Getz/For the AJC
Photo: Jason Getz/For the AJC

McEachern teammates share Player of the Year honors

The question was whether there had been a better pair of teammates on a Georgia high school basketball team than McEachern’s Sharife Cooper and Isaac Okoro.

Westlake coach Darron Rogers, who has won more than 500 games, said no, although he named some he thought were as good, such as Jeff Malone and Terry Fair of Southwest-Macon. That was 40 years ago.

“The chemistry that they have developed over the years is unmatched by most players,’’ Rogers said of Cooper, a junior point guard, and Okoro, a senior wing/small forward.

Meadowcreek coach Curtis Gilleylen, whose team lost to McEachern in the Class AAAAAAA final, said Okoro and Cooper were the best since Lou Williams and Mike Mercer at South Gwinnett in 2005. Williams went straight to the NBA, Mercer to Georgia.

Player of the year awards

» Girls player of the year: Kayla McPherson, Madison County
» All-state teams: BoysGirls
» All-metro teams: BoysGirls

Pebblebrook coach George Washington gave a shout-out to his own recent pair, Collin Sexton and Jared Harper, who made the all-SEC team last year. But he couldn’t say they were better.

“This year has been special watching Sharife and Isaac represent Georgia in all of the major high school events and beating the perennial powerhouse basketball factories,” Washington said.

McEachern's Isaac Okoro has signed with Auburn, is a top-40 national recruit.
Photo: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

What can’t be argued is the history that Cooper and Okoro just made. They led McEachern to its first state title in boys basketball. And they are the first teammates to share The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s all-classification boys player-of-the-year award.

At 32-0, McEachern became Georgia’s first undefeated team in the highest classification since Dunwoody in 1995. McEachern was the first to finish its season with No. 1 national rankings since that 1979 Southwest-Macon team made famous by Fair and Malone. MaxPreps, BlueStar Media and the Prep Circuit Power 50 each put McEachern at the top.

McEachern defeated nine teams that had national rankings at one time or another and won national showcase tournaments in Springfield, Mo., and Fort Myers, Fla.

Okoro, who has signed with Auburn, is a top-40 national recruit and the highest-rated senior in the GHSA. He averaged 19.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.7 steals. Cooper, a five-star recruit for the class of 2020, averaged 28.6 points, 8.6 assists and 4.1 steals. He is uncommitted, although Auburn is high on his list.

The two have played together since elementary school, when Sharife’s father, Omar Sr., formed a rec team that evolved into an elite AAU program. Their history together is quickly evident on the court.

McEachern guard Sharife Cooper is a five-star recruit for the class of 2020.
Photo: Jason Getz/For the AJC

McEachern coach Mike Thompson recalled a play against Kennesaw Mountain that illustrated the point.

“Sharife was driving to the basket, and he bounced the ball on the floor high into the air, and Isaac came out of nowhere and dunked it,” Thompson said. “The gym went berserk. I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years. They have a chemistry that is unique.”

The two are inseparable most of the time, with no jealousy toward the other, Thompson said, but they love to compete against each other. They often scrimmage with their teammates, each as captain of his own team.

Their skill sets and their personalities are also complementary. Cooper is a natural ball-handler and scorer. Okoro is more powerful and athletic and the best defensive player in the nation, according to Thompson.

“Isaac is a lunch-pale guy; Sharife is a showman,” Thompson said. “Isaac is an old-school, come-to-work guy. Sharife understands the wow factor of the game. One goes about it one way, one another, and they meet together for a very special pair.”

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