Wayne Cooper was a treasure for UNO
One of the very best athletes in University of New Orleans history has passed away.
Former Privateer basketball star Wayne Cooper has died at the age of 65.
Born in Milan, Georgia, Cooper attended Telfair County High School in Georgia.
Coach Ron Greene signed him to play for the University of New Orleans, where he would star from 1974-78.
In his four years playing for the Privateers, Cooper scored 1,209 points and pulled down 920 rebounds in 98 games played.
During that time, Cooper led UNO to an 80-31 record (.721).
In his sophomore season, Cooper averaged 12.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
In his junior season, Cooper was an All-Sun Belt Conference performer, averaging 13.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
In his final season of 1977-78, Cooper earned Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year honors, averaging 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds in leading the Privateers to a 21-6 record and the conference championship as part of an outstanding team under Butch Van Breda Kolff which featured Ardith Wearren, Nate Mills, Mike Edwards, Rico Weaver, Jordan Crump and Haywood Hewitt, among others.
The tournament championship was held in Charlotte, North Carolina and the Privateers beat South Alabama 22-20 in the title game as the Jaguars held the ball for most of the game, prompting the acceleration of implementing a shot clock in college basketball.
UNO won its last 13 games but the Sun Belt Conference, a new league, did not have an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and the Privateers were left out of what is now known as March Madness.
In my younger years, I ventured to “The Chamber of Horrors” to watch the Privateers play.
The building was frequently at capacity and it was loud in support of the guys wearing “New Orleans” on their chests.
It was amazing to see great players like Edwards, Terry Gill, John “Hawk” Hamilton, Melvin “Pogo” Henderson, Wilbur Holland, Mills, Johnny Ponds, Duane Reboul, Wearren and Butch Webster play.
Cooper was chosen second all-time in University of New Orleans history in the school’s Top 50 players, selected by a panel of observers in 2019.
Upon completion of his eligibility with the Privateers, Cooper was drafted in the second round (40th overall) by the Golden State Warriors in the 1978 NBA Draft.
Cooper proved he was more than worthy of that choice, going on to an excellent 14-year career in the league, playing for Golden State, Utah, Dallas, Portland and Denver.
Cooper finished his career averaging 7.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game and was part of 10 playoff teams.
Following his NBA playing days, Cooper served as an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings from 1994-96 and went on to serve as Vice President and General Manager for the Kings.
Cooper was inducted into the University of New Orleans Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988 and earned induction into the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1992. Cooper was inducted into the Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
On a personal level, Wayne was very kind, congenial to his alma mater when I worked at the University of New Orleans.
Ron Maestri, who served as head baseball coach when Cooper played for the Privateers, was saddened to hear the news and has very fond memories of him.
“When Coop came in, he was really like Ervin Johnson but a little more advanced,” Maestri said. “He was not highly recruited. He was a kid that had to work hard and just got better every year. He made himself into an NBA player and he was just a great person. My former UNO baseball players got very close to Wayne and kept in touch with him. He was just a great person, real low key and really had a great career. He came in when Jordan Crump died. He cared deeply about UNO.”
The hard work paid off for Cooper. He was an outstanding player and an even better person to all who encountered him.
In my days at UNO, we created a group called Privateer Pride.
Cooper encompassed that phrase perfectly. He was truly a treasure for the University of New Orleans.
NOTE: Ken Trahan served as play-by-play voice for UNO basketball and baseball via television (1982-1987, 1994) and radio (1986-1988, 1990-92, 2001-2006) and served as assistant athletic director (2001-2006) at the university.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…