By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Triumph, thrilling, tickled and thankful might have been four ‘T’ words to describe the feelings of Tarryel, Tanya, Tyron and Tramaine April 26 in the Brighton Gymnasium.
The Cooper family has experienced several types of emotions in that venue over the past 6 years. But on the signing day of Tramaine to attend Bethel University, all four were giving ‘true’ smiles surrounded by friends and family for the occasion.
“I probably had the best support system on the team,” Tramaine said. “They would come to every game, Hardin County, Dyer County, Mississippi State. They would come anywhere just to support me. Everyone needed that family.”
Tramaine’s family support system extended past genetics. Over the years his family tree grew with fans, teammates and coaches helping him reach his dream of signing. As Tramaine matured as a point guard, he started to attract attention he didn’t know he was receiving.
“I remember during the season he asked me, ‘Is anyone looking at me?’” Brighton Head Coach Stan Gatlin recalled. “I said, ‘Right now, let’s not focus on that. Focus on playing the game. I promise we’re going to get you somewhere.’ I’m just thankful… I didn’t lie to him. I was confident in him because of his ability. He has skills. He has the skills.”
Those skills drew the interest of the Bethel Wildcats and Head Coach Jeff Britt. After a couple of workouts for Britt’s staff with the team, Bethel wanted the youngest Cooper on their roster.
“Just his toughness on the floor and his leadership on the floor,” Bethel Assistant Coach Aaron Johnson said. “Films that I’ve watched on him, he has the ability to be a point guard on our level. He’s got a body already that should translate to the physicality of our league. He shoots the ball well which is good.
“He’s played with our team twice,” Johnson added. “From talking to him and talking to our guys, they all seem to like playing with him. He sees the floor well. He doesn’t seem lost out there. So once we get him in our system this fall, I think he shouldn’t have any trouble adjusting.”
Adjusting was something Tramaine had to do often during his four varsity seasons at Brighton. During his freshman and sophomore campaigns, the Cooper family was experiening a dream while enduring nightmare results on the court.
“The first two years were a struggle,” Tramaine recalled. “But I got to play with my brother which was fun. We were not winning though. My next two years, we started winning. I see how good it feels to become a winner. I just thank Coach Gatlin and all my other coaches here — Coach Rodgers, Coach Richardson and Coach Nick.”
The two seasons of the Tyron and Tramaine backcourt brought joy to Tanya and Tarryel.
“I was glad to see both of my boys out there playing ball together,” Tarryel said. “I know that it meant a lot to Tra. He mention wanting to play ball with his big brother Ty. We talked about him transferring at one time. But he said he definitely wanted to stay and play his last year with Ty.”
Despite Ty winning personal awards, the Cardinals were under .500 and finishing near the bottom of District 13-3A.
Enter Stan Gatlin after Ty’s graduation and the completion of Tra’s sophomore season. Tramaine said the first summer with Gatlin was a wake-up call to become a leader for younger players coming to the Cardinals like Coach Gatlin’s son Taeylr.
“He’s been a tremendous help as far as bringing our younger guards along,” Coach Gatlin said. “Also he’s been very supportive with my son. A lot time you’ll have some conflicts with a coach/son dynamic. Tra was able to bring Tra along. I would say, ‘Tra I need you to run point because Taeylr is not getting it done right now.’ It’s been times they’ve bounce off each other and pulled each other along.”
Tramaine said he enjoyed sharing the backcourt his final two seasons with a standout like Taeylr. He noted the time with young Gatlin and his big brother played major parts in shaping his game.
“Ty taught me a whole lot,” he recalled. “He’s the one who got me tougher. When we’ll be outside playing with all the fouling and stuff. I just had to get used to it.
“And I brought some of that to Taeylr,” Tramaine added. “I helped him a little but he helped me more. He helped me to become a better player, person and all that stuff.”
Tarryel said his son’s total experience at Brighton will benefit him down the line on and off the court.
“He’s grown a lot,” he said. “Under Coach Rodgers as a ninth and 10th grader he did a lot of learning. He played a lot of varsity basketball. Especially when Taeylr went down last year he had to become one of the leaders on the team. He grew a lot in those areas.”
Coach Gatlin said Coach Britt picked up a intelligent basketball player who is tough and has strong values.
“They’re getting a point guard who knows the game,” he noted. “Great mid-range jump shot and he can knock the three down. He led us in threes this year. Overall, he’s a tough kid. He fights through injuries and he’s going to get his work done in the classroom as well.
“That’s what it’s all about, helping these kids have a brighter future by whatever avenue we can help them take,” Gatlin added. “Helping to get there school paid for, this is a big opportunity. It’s always special to see a good kid get an opportunity. It’s not easy to get one.”
Now Cooper will have an opportunity to take on the best of the NAIA’s Mid-South Conference for Britt. For nearly 20 years, Britt has led the Wildcats winning more than 240 games.
Tramaine got a taste of winning his final two seasons at Brighton including finishing second in the District 13-3A standings and tournament.
Cheering during the wins and losses the entire time was Tramaine’s family.
“He just knows we’re going to be here regardless of what’s going on,” Tanya said. “It means a lot. When Tra was about 5 years old, he said he wanted to play college basketball.”
The dream has come true for the Cooper known as Tra.
“I’m real proud of Tra,” Tarryel concluded. “This is something he wanted to do since the ninth or 10th grade to play college basketball. We’re thankful to Coach Gatlin, Brighton High School, Coach Richardson and Bethel for this opportunity.”