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Zia Cooke interview: South Carolina guard on Daybreak Staley, girls’s NCAA event, and viral highschool video


Since Zia Cooke confirmed up at South Carolina, the Gamecocks have morphed into one of the vital dominant groups in all of sports activities. A 3-year starter at level guard, Cooke has been the ground common for a program that has gone 85-7 since she confirmed up on campus.

The one factor lacking is a nationwide championship.

South Carolina went 32-1 in Cooke’s freshman 12 months however the NCAA event was canceled due to the beginning of the pandemic. The Gamecocks reached the Last 4 as a No. 2 seed final 12 months solely to lose by one level in a heartbreaker to eventual champion Stanford. All Cooke did was rating a game-high 25 factors within the defeat.

The Gamecocks have bounced again stronger than ever this season. They’re No. 1 within the AP Ballot as they enter the SEC event at 27–1 general. Whereas nationwide participant of the 12 months entrance runner Aliyah Boston will get a lot of the consideration, Cooke has continued to be a dynamic offensive guard who can rating off the dribble and get her teammates concerned. Head coach Daybreak Staley already received a nationwide championship with this system behind A’ja Wilson in 2017, and this 12 months’s run by the nation’s most tough schedule once more places South Carolina in place to win all of it.

Earlier than Cooke leads South Carolina into the NCAA event, she’s working with H&R Block because the face of a marketing campaign to commit $1 million to women’s sports. Cooke chatted with SB Nation in regards to the NIL, her standout profession at South Carolina, the legend of Daybreak Staley, and the strain of being the favourite within the NCAA event.

SB Nation: What’s it prefer to be concerned on this H&R Block initiative, and why is it so thrilling for you?

Zia Cooke: It’s actually a blessing to be part of this, particularly understanding that H&R Block is shining a light-weight on girls. And it’s a tremendous alternative for me to be a kind of girls that they will shine the sunshine on. With me not understanding a lot about taxes and them serving to me with my NIL revenue, it has actually been a blessing.

SBN: How has the NIL modified issues for you? Clearly it’s a brand new expertise for everybody concerned. As a former five-star recruit and big-time faculty basketball participant, what have the advantages been for gamers like your self?

Cooke: The NIL has been good for me, particularly attending to have all the best folks round me, my agent, my dad and mom, and even a few of my associates which are right here for me serving to me do it. However it’s additionally only a lot to handle. I’ve college, I’m a student-athlete, so generally it may be difficult. However with having these nice folks round me that need the very best for me and in addition, like I mentioned, with H&R Block serving to me with my taxes, taking a load off for me undoubtedly helps me out quite a bit.

SBN: I truly wrote an article about you in 2018 when you were a recruit. You scored 43 factors in a highschool sport and also you had Probability the Rapper and Dwyane Wade and all these well-known folks tweeting about you. I famous began a Twitter account since you had been getting a lot publicity. What was that like pondering again to that second?

Cooke: That was undoubtedly a life altering second for me personally. I bought a variety of recognition off that. Lots of people began to know who I used to be off that, it was undoubtedly a life altering second. I didn’t even anticipate what I did to explode the way in which it did. I actually simply made an Instagram submit and lots of people had been reaching out to me about it. I bought a variety of love from a variety of celebrities and to today I nonetheless have relationships with nice folks which were there ever since that occurred. However it’s actually loopy as a result of earlier than I went viral, I used to be type of already doing the identical sort of stuff. It simply wasn’t caught on digicam. So undoubtedly that second was a life altering second for me.

SBN: You had been one of many high recruits within the nation popping out of highschool. You select South Carolina over gives from many different large time packages. In fact, earlier than Daybreak Staley got here to South Carolina, South Carolina was not like a powerhouse in girls’s basketball however has since became one. So I’m curious, simply going again to your recruiting, what was it about Daybreak or about this system itself that attracted you to South Carolina?

Cooke: Oh, man, I’ve to offer all of the credit score to teach Staley. I feel she was the one that really caught my consideration probably the most. In fact, I like the assistant coaches and the teammates that I had met throughout that point, however I truthfully fell in love with coach Staley and simply every little thing that she advised me. She saved it actual with me about every little thing, and I simply knew that she would have the ability to open up new doorways for me and assist me develop into the participant that I needed to be.

SBN: I feel you began each sport your freshman 12 months, and the staff was large with just one loss. Then the NCAA event will get canceled due to the beginning of the pandemic. In fact, everybody in the entire world needed to cope with the pandemic, nevertheless it should have been a wild expertise for you and your staff as a result of the group was having such a charmed season. What was it like going by that?

Cooke: That was undoubtedly actually robust for me. However truthfully, I actually felt for seniors Kiki (Mikiah Herbert Harrigan) and Ty (Tyasha Harris) as a result of it was their final 12 months. I do know that was one thing that they actually needed to get performed and the truth that they couldn’t get it performed, that was what damage me probably the most. However undoubtedly that second was loopy for us. It was a surreal second as a result of we truthfully felt like we had the chance to win a nationwide championship. We thought we had all of the items to do it and we simply bought caught brief on that.

SBN: The subsequent 12 months, final season, ended with a one-point loss to Stanford within the Last 4. That was such a tremendous sport simply from a fan’s perspective to see two nice groups go at it like that. You performed rather well, main the staff with 25 factors. What do you bear in mind about that sport? How have you ever kind of used that to gasoline your success this 12 months?

Cooke: It was a extremely good sport. The entire expertise was actually good for us. I’ll say, as you mentioned, it was a reasonably good sport. For myself, that second simply confirmed me what we’re able to, to know that we will make it to the Last 4. We didn’t have Ty or Kiki anymore, and people had been the leaders for us. After they ended up leaving, we type of didn’t know what was subsequent for us, however we simply stayed the course. We stayed collectively as a staff and we did the very best we may to get the place we bought.

SBN: South Carolina has performed an excellent, tremendous tough schedule and nonetheless ended the common season at 27-1 and at No. 1 within the polls. You performed UConn, Stanford, Maryland, NC State, Oregon. And people are all video games you received. And that’s all exterior of convention play. Had been you wanting ahead to the problem or type of dreading it? It needs to be arduous to rise up each single night time like that. How do you suppose that schedule goes that can assist you in March?

Cooke: Oh, man, I can’t lie. These video games that we did play high 25 groups within the nation, I felt prefer it was again to again to again. It was undoubtedly arduous to do. However we got here out on high of that. And like I mentioned earlier than, that simply reveals us what we’re able to as a staff. Enjoying in opposition to a number of the high groups within the nation and nonetheless popping out on high. It simply ready us. I feel it’s finest to play video games like that slightly than taking part in different groups that we all know might be to problem ourselves and present what we’re able to.

SBN: After which in fact there’s a single blemish in your document this 12 months. That’s Mizzou. It was a giant upset as a result of Mizzou shouldn’t be thought of a powerhouse staff. However I’m simply curious what it’s prefer to have that one loss. Like does that eat away on the staff? Do you’re feeling like, hey, perhaps it’s an excellent factor so we don’t have the strain of an undefeated season in March? What do you kind of take into consideration that sport now wanting again?

Cooke: I received’t say it was an excellent factor for us however I’m completely happy we bought that out early. I’ll say that and I feel it humbled us in a method as a result of like I mentioned, we had simply bought performed beating Stanford. We had a bit little bit of break day after which we went straight to taking part in Mizzou. We didn’t have the identical chip on our shoulder that was undoubtedly was a get up name for us to know that we will’t take any staff calmly regardless of the place they’re ranked, regardless of who they’re. We bought to verify we go into each sport with the identical mindset which is desirous to win regardless of who steps in entrance of us. So I’ve undoubtedly bought that out of the way in which and hopefully this complete run we will go along with no losses as a result of at this level every little thing issues. So that they gave us what we would have liked which was to place that chip again on our shoulder and put together us to win.

SBN: There have been so many nice gamers in girls’s faculty basketball this 12 months. Inform me why your teammate Aliyah Boston ought to be nationwide participant of the 12 months.

Cooke: I feel it’s plainly as a result of the work she’s put in she dominates each time. She doesn’t take any of her opponents calmly. She’s that instance everybody ought to need to be. She places the work in each 12 months, and grows. She does all issues she ought to be doing to develop into the participant that she is. I feel it’s actually only a stunning factor to look at the way in which she’s grown over all these years. Yearly she is available in with one thing new. She’s constructing one thing for herself each 12 months, and it’s only a been a blessing to look at her and see all of the success she’s had.

SBN: As a guard, what’s it prefer to play with a dominant large like that? It’s bought to make your life a lot simpler.

Cooke: It makes it simple. If you miss pictures, you understand you bought a dominant submit participant who will decide up any missed layups or missed pictures. I’m fairly certain if I miss a shot I do know Aliyah has the rebound. One thing coach all the time tells us, ‘simply get it on the rim, and we bought nice rebounders. They’ll get the rebound and put it again up.’ Not even simply that although, she’s that teammate that you really want. She’s simply that chief that you really want on each staff. Simply to maintain the staff collectively and hold you uplifted.

SBN: Are you able to inform us something about Aliyah or coach that followers won’t know?

Aliyah is tremendous goofy off the courtroom. I really feel like she reveals that off the courtroom as properly. It’s not probably the most thrilling, however truthfully they’re tremendous humble. Even with all of the accolades they’re getting, they’re nonetheless tremendous, tremendous humble. They arrive in they usually don’t act greater than anybody. They deal with us all the identical. Our coach being the SEC coach of the 12 months and Aliyah being the participant of the 12 months in our convention, they’re nonetheless the identical folks. That’s what I like to see, individuals who don’t get large headed and suppose they’re higher than others. AB is actually that teammate that retains everyone equal and doesn’t suppose she’s higher than anybody.

SBN: I’ve observed your sport could be very bodily. I came upon you played football with the boys in fifth and sixth grade. How did that have form you as an athlete? There’s not a variety of younger women who get to try this.

Cooke: It was enjoyable for me. It’s not frequent for a girl to play males’s sports activities, however that’s one thing I needed to do. It’s one thing I feel helped me out with my toughness and my IQ after I’m on the ground. It simply reveals that girls can do the identical factor males can do. Circling that again to H&R Block, they’re placing their gentle on girls. We haven’t been getting the identical quantity of alternatives that males have gotten. I feel H&R Block is shining their gentle on us and giving us a good shot to indicate we will do the identical factor males do — and generally we’d even be higher at it. Soccer helped me in a variety of other ways. If I may I in all probability would have went longer with it. However basketball was what I actually actually needed to do.

SBN: What’s it been prefer to play for coach Staley after spending three years together with her?

Cooke: Coach is a star no matter if we win a nationwide championship or not. She’s that voice. When she walks within the room, you possibly can inform she’s somebody helps her tradition and helps her group. And she or he needs what’s proper, needs what’s honest. That’s who she is. She’s a star. She offers us the facility and information of what it’s prefer to be a lady taking part in excessive stage sports activities. She’s undoubtedly somebody I look as much as. And I hope I can develop into a frontrunner like she is on the ladies’s aspect of sports activities.

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