Another year, another grad transfer producing for Baylor
Last season, Baylor point guard Chloe Jackson showed the world the potential upside of being a graduate transfer. The former NC State and LSU shooting guard changed schools and positions for her final season, yet didn’t skip a beat, leading Baylor to a national championship and earning Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors. She did enough to be picked by the Chicago Sky in the second round of the WNBA Draft—and to make her coach, Kim Mulkey, open to future graduate transfers.
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Enter Te’a Cooper, whom many view as this year’s Jackson. Cooper started her college career at Tennessee and transferred to South Carolina before deciding to play her final season at Baylor. Like Jackson, she will be the Lady Bears’ point guard, and she leads a top-five Baylor team that is well positioned to defend its title. Even Mulkey has drawn the comparison multiple times: she mentioned Jackson in Baylor’s announcement welcoming Cooper to the team, and at Big 12 Media Day, Mulkey said, “We have to take those new players and do with them what you did with Chloe Jackson and what you did with the freshmen last year.”
Cooper and Jackson are also close friends, and Jackson’s experience was a big factor in Cooper’s decision to come to Baylor. “That’s my best friend,” Cooper told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “… It just so happens that we both kind of have the same story. … It’s a perfect situation for me, just like it was a perfect situation for [Jackson].”
But the path to a repeat is not as simple as plugging in Cooper for Jackson and letting the rest take care of itself. For one thing, Baylor has other holes to fill, namely the loss of star center Kalani Brown to the WNBA. But for another, Cooper and Jackson were not the same player when they each arrived on campus, despite their similar stories as two-time transfers who run the point for Mulkey.
Jackson came to Baylor as a shooting guard who needed to show WNBA talent evaluators that she could play point guard. She did a superb job, more than doubling her assists per game and assist-to-turnover ratio while still averaging nearly 12 points per game.
Note: Data is from Her Hoop Stats. The cell colors indicate in what percentile the player ranked in Division I for that particular stat: dark green indicates that she ranked in the top 10% of Division I players, light green indicates the top one-third, white indicates the middle third, and light red indicates the bottom third.
Cooper, on the other hand, already felt comfortable at point guard before arriving at Baylor. In fact, she said over the summer that one reason she left South Carolina was because “I just felt like I was playing out of position” at shooting guard. “I really wanted to end my last year playing as a point guard,” she explained. At Big 12 Media Day in October, Cooper called her adjustment to Baylor “super smooth” and said, “It’s easier for me to be a point guard because that’s what I’ve been training to do all my life.”
That point guard mentality was evident in Cooper’s stats last season: despite playing shooting guard, she recorded over two assists per game and assisted on 20 percent of her team’s baskets while she was on the floor. Those numbers ranked in the 78th and 82nd percentiles, respectively, in Division I.
Now back to her preferred position, Cooper has taken her game to another level so far this season. Through her first five games, she has a remarkable 6.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and is averaging 12.6 points per game on an extremely efficient 1.19 points per play. (According to Her Hoop Stats, “plays” are defined as shots, trips to the free throw line, and turnovers.) Cooper’s statistics all point to a player who is making the right decisions about when to shoot and when to pass the ball. And she is playing a huge role in Baylor’s offense, which ranks third nationally in points per 100 possessions: Cooper is scoring, getting to the free throw line, or assisting on 39% of Baylor’s possessions.
Some of Cooper’s statistics might be less gaudy by season’s end, but she has done nothing so far to make anyone question whether the grad transfer route can work again this season for Baylor. If Baylor makes it back to the Final Four—and if Cooper is picked in the first or second round of the WNBA Draft—the comparisons to Jackson will likely only get louder. While convenient, that narrative is too simple. Cooper is not moving to point guard for the first time; rather, she is taking advantage of the path Jackson paved and picking up her old position with a new team.
Changing the narrative can be difficult to do, but it comes with a clear upside for Baylor fans: with a natural point guard leading the offense, the Lady Bears might have an even better chance to repeat as champions than many people realize.
All stats are courtesy of Her Hoop Stats for games through November 24.
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