Tim Sullivan is 148-137 in his career. He’s coached at Cooper since the school opened in the 2008-09 school year, going 141-118 with the Jaguars. His only other previous head coaching stint was at St. Patrick during the 2004-05 season.
3) Dante Hendrix, 6-3, Sr., 7.8 ppg
5) Adam Kunkel, 6-3, Jr., 16.8 ppg
11) Brayden Runion, 6-1, Jr., 10.3 ppg
12) Chris McNeil, 6-0, Jr., 6.7 ppg
22) Sean McNeil, 6-4, Sr., 16.9 ppg
How they got here
Cooper set a school record for wins and won its first 9th Region championship in its first appearance. The Jaguars pulled it off despite going a good chunk of the season without starters Sean McNeil, a Bellarmine signee, and Chris McNeil. Sean missed 12 games after spraining his knee in Cooper’s opening game of the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic while Chris missed 11 games after suffering an injury in the Jaguars’ next contest in that tournament.
The Jags had their full roster in the region finals against Covington Catholic, against whom their hard-nosed 1-3-1 zone wreaked havoc.
“Certain types of games call for certain types of situations and I think our kids do a great job on the fly and understand how to make in-game adjustments,” Sullivan said. “… We pride ourselves on the defensive end.”
Started from the bottom …
Cooper went 2-25 and 5-25 in its first two years as a program, and didn’t string together a winning campaign until the 2011-12 season. Before this season the Jaguars had only won two 9th Region tournament games in their nine-year history.
“I was the guy that they took a chance on to be the head coach here, but there have been so many hands and so many people that have poured into this program and made it what it is today,” Sullivan said. “This group obviously gets to benefit from the foundation that our alumni have left for ’em.”
Player to watch
Kunkel, a junior with offers from Central Arkansas and Samford, was forced into the role of alpha dog during Sean McNeil’s absence. The two at times butted heads in the summer but grew better because of the competition, Sullivan said, as well as their separation during the season.
“As much as we hated to not have Sean with an injury, it was great to see Adam to be thrown into that role where now all of a sudden you’re the man,” he said. “I think it gave him a real appreciation for what Sean has gone through the last couple of years.”
This is the first boys’ or girls’ basketball state tournament for Cooper in school history.
Jason Tripure is in his third season leading the Green Wave, who are 52-43 in his tenure. He was a freshman and JV coach at the school in the previous 13 years before taking over.
James Baker, 6-7, 16.3 ppg
Noah Schwartz, 6-1, 10.0 ppg
Dakota Clayton, 6-1, 7.2 ppg
Aiden Matthews, 6-4, 10.5 ppg
Chezney Weick, 6-4, 7.7 ppg
How they got here
After starting the season 8-1, the Green Wave lost 20 of their next 22 games heading into the 3rd Region tournament. Senior James Baker, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, tore a ligament in his left hand in a Christmas tournament game versus Central on Dec. 28, a game which ended up being the fourth loss of what would grow into a 14-game skid.
“When he was playing early in the season they looked to him for everything,” Tripure said of Baker, who returned in time for Meade County’s first postseason game. “When he’s out they got to pick up their game and do some stuff they weren’t doing through the first 10 games. I think they just got better.”
Meade County’s 21 losses are the most of any team entering the tournament, “besting” the previous record of 17 by Shelby Valley in 2011. Tripure mentioned to his assistants the possibility of losing every game without Baker following his injury, but constantly encouraged his players that the work put in would pay off sometime.
“I thought sometime would come a lot earlier than it did,” Tripure said with a laugh. “Obviously you don’t want to come into the year and be like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna lose 21 games.’ It’s not fun, I tell ya that. It wasn’t fun for me and it wasn’t fun for the kids, but I give a lot of props to them.”
Player to watch
Baker, whose suitors included Bellarmine, Georgetown College and Spalding before the injury, got to practice for two days before coming back for the 11th District opener against Breckinridge County. He had 28 points and 13 rebounds in that contest.
“That’s not too bad after two months off,” Tripure said with a laugh.
This is Meade County’s second Sweet Sixteen appearance and first since 1984. That team finished 22-12 after losing to Logan County in the opening round.
Cooper vs. Meade County
What: First round of boys’ Sweet Sixteen basketball state tournament
Where: Rupp Arena
When: 8 p.m. Thursday