Like the team as a whole, the 6'4" Gary, Indiana native's play was inconsistent during the non-conference portion of the season and was a large factor in the Phoenix 6-6 start to the season.
When a knee injury forced him to sit out Green Bay's 108-59 walloping of lowly Saint Mary's (MN) on December 22nd, head coach Linc Darner inserted Kerem Kanter into the starting lineup forcing Cooper into a 6th man role off the bench when he returned - a role in which he has flourished so far.
Since coming off the bench, Cooper ranks 2nd in the Horizon League scoring 20.3 points per game and 8th in the conference in rebounding at 7.7 per game. Green Bay is 3-0 in that stretch and has won five in a row overall dating back to December 19th.
"Everybody's starting to identify themselves, staying into their roles," Cooper said following Green Bay's 70-64 victory over in-state rival Milwaukee. "We're doing pretty good."
"Last year we didn't get a 5 game win streak, this year we did," he said. "We also didn't get a sweep last year on the road so I think that's a plus."
Overall this season, Cooper is Green Bay's leading scorer and has quietly entered the Horizon League's top ten scoring leaders at 14.0 per game. In 27.0 minutes per game, he's also grabbing 5.5 rebounds to go along with 1.5 assists and 1.1 steals.
Cooper was named the Horizon League Player of the Week for the first time in his career following the Phoenix 2-0 Ohio road trip last week.
"I play the same amount of minutes any way, and we are winning," Cooper said, via the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "What is the point of me starting? We are still winning and I'm still helping the team out a lot."
Along with impressive production from Kanter, Cooper's play has been a catalyst for a Green Bay team that has been playing well and is currently in the middle of their longest stretch of home games of the season. The Phoenix will play four of their next five games at the Resch Center.
"We've played decent here," Darner said Friday after the win against UWM. "We haven't played great the whole game but we've had really good moments and we've got to continue that. This is a big stretch, we've got 4 of the next 5 at home. Tuesday night we've got a really good Northern Kentucky team coming in."
Green Bay (9-6, 3-0) will look to keep the momentum going against an equally hot NKU team Tuesday night. The Norse (12-5, 3-1) are having their best season as a Division I program and lost their lone conference game on the road at league-leading Oakland on New Year's Eve but have won two in a row since.
Northern Kentucky is led by a blend of upperclassmen as well as young players. Their leading scorer, 6'8" sophomore forward Drew McDonald, was named the Horizon League Player of the Week on Monday after going off for 37 points in an 83-75 victory over Cleveland State on Saturday. He is currently 5th in the conference in scoring at 16.7 points per game.
Other players to watch include 6'1" junior LaVone Holland, 6'7" senior Cole Murray, and 6'5" freshman phenom Carson Williams, all of which average double figures in scoring.
Green Bay swept the Norse last season in NKU's first season as a Horizon League member. With a wide open conference so far this season, Northern Kentucky seems up to the challenge setting up what should be a fantastic game Tuesday night at the Resch Center.
"If you look at all the scores, every game seems to be a battle," Darner said. "So we told our guys it doesn't matter who you play in conference play."
"When you get into conference play it's going to be a battle."
The 6'1" freshman has hit the ground running in his first season in a Phoenix uniform and leads the team in assists (2.6 per game), made three pointers (27), three point percentage (42.2%), and minutes played (30.5 per game).
He is second on the team in free throw percentage (82.4%) and points per game (11.9), trailing only senior Charles Cooper (12.3).
So while his play has no doubt proven that he is one of the best players on the Green Bay roster, where does the former 3-star prospect rank among other freshman in the Horizon League so far this season?
One of the highest rated recruits in program history, Anderson has yet to win the conference"s weekly "Freshman of the Week" award which was given out seven times during the non-conference season. Yet the reigning Wisconsin Mr. Basketball shows up on several conference leaderboards, including 8th in three point field goal percentage, 9th in minutes played, and 4th in the conference in true shooting percentage - an advanced statistic that takes into account field goals and free throws.
So far this season Anderson is 1st among Horizon League freshman in minutes played, 2nd in scoring, 5th in assists, and 9th in rebounding.
So who are the other contenders?
At this point, the leader in the clubhouse appears to be Northern Kentucky's Carson Williams. One of two players to have won the Freshman of the Week award twice so far this season, the 6?5? Williams has played a big part in helping the Norse to an impressive 9-4 start entering conference play.
A 3-star recruit, Williams was named Mr. Basketball in Kentucky last season as a high school senior and is averaging 10.9 points per game while leading all Horizon League freshman with 6.1 rebounds per game so far this season.
He has just one three point attempt, but is extremely active around the basket. He leads the conference in offensive efficiency while also leading the league in offensive rebounds, grabbing nearly 3 per contest. He also gets to the line a lot, attempting the 6th most free throws during the non-conference season, making them at a 67.7% clip.
The upstart Norse have six freshman on their roster that have appeared in at least 7 games this season, four of which play a large role and average at least 14 minutes per game.
GB (5-6) is still searching for players to help replace the production lost due to the graduation of Carrington Love and Jordan Fouse last season.
Seniors Charles Cooper and Kenneth Lowe are off to a slow start and are producing less than they did a season ago. Others have stepped their games up but not to the level necessary to pick up the slack.
However, with only a few non-conference games left to play before Green Bay's Horizon League season tips off December 29th at Cleveland State, one player in particular is stepping his game up in a big way.
Kerem Kanter, the 6'10" junior forward from Istanbul, Turkey, is on an incredible run offensively so far this season, especially the past four games.
In fact, Kanter is just 11 points shy from surpassing his scoring total from all of last season when he scored 109 points. In 28 appearances, he averaged 3.9 points and 2.2 rebounds in 9.5 minutes per game as a sophomore a season ago.
In 10 games so far this season he is scoring 9.8 points per game in 15.5 minutes. He is also grabbing 4.3 rebounds per game.
The offensive increase is about more than just getting more opportunities and more minutes. In per 40 minute numbers, Kanter is still right on his career average when it comes to rebounds - 9.1 for his career compared to 9.0 this season. But his points per 40 minutes have increased 58.5% since last season, a sign that he is taking (and making) more shots at an impressive clip.
He's also putting up career high numbers in shooting efficiency. His 61.7% on 2-point field goals ranks 4th in the Horizon League while also hitting an impressive 42.9% (6/14) of his attempts from three point range, well above his 21.9% career average prior to the season.
Most impressive is the current four game tear he is on.
Sandy Cohen is coming home.
The 6'6" Marquette transfer, who starred at nearby Seymour High School, has chosen to continue his college basketball career at Green Bay according to Mark Miller of Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook. He chose the Phoenix over conference rival Oakland.
Cohen burst onto the scene prior to his senior year of high school, going from a relative unknown to a consensus 4-star prospect and top 100 national recruit across all the major recruiting services (#73 247 Sports, #83 ESPN, #88 Scout, #97 Rivals,). He was recruited by then-Green Bay head coach Brian Wardle at the time but ultimately chose Marquette over big time offers from Virginia, Purdue, Iowa, Creighton, and Minnesota among others.
He appeared in 31 games for Marquette as a true freshman and even started 7 games. He scored 3.8 points and grabbed 1.6 rebounds in 15.0 minutes per game.
His role significantly expanded at the beginning of his sophomore season, starting 15 straight games from November 23rd to January 16th last season. He lost his starting spot and his numbers tailed off once Big East Conference play got going, but he still finished the season scoring 5.9 points and grabbing 3.2 rebounds per game in 23.2 minutes of action.
This season he appeared in just 3 games for Marquette, going scoreless in 19 total minutes of action. He asked for and was granted a release from his scholarship on November 20th.
The decision to transfer came down to playing time, Cohen told John Hand of the Marquette Wire.
"The biggest part was just I wasn't in a place where I could reach my full potential as a basketball player and hopefully take that next step in my game," Cohen told the Wire. "My dream and my goal has always been to play at the highest level. I just felt here at Marquette I wasn't in the right situation for that to happen. I love everybody at Marquette, coaches and everything. I just had to make the best decision for me."
"Being a junior and not being able to play much is not really what I envisioned and not really what I thought would happen. It pretty much comes down to playing time."
Green Bay Phoenix head coach Linc Darner has said multiple times already this season that he loves the depth of his team, but that depth means minutes could be at a premium for some players towards the bottom of the roster.
This raises the question on if it makes sense for one or two players to possibly redshirt this season - sitting out the season from game action while still participating in practices and workouts.
According to Scott Venci of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Phoenix coaching staff does indeed plan to redshirt sophomore guards Anthony and Avery Brown this season. The duo from Clermont, Florida played sparingly last season as freshman and likely would see even less minutes this year as the guard depth chart actually gained a player, adding Warren Jones and Trevor Anderson but losing Carrington Love.
"?We are looking at the future with them, I think a year of redshirting could do them wonders," Darner told the Press-Gazette. "They are both excited about it. I guess time will tell if this was a good move or not. Next year at this time will they go from what they weigh now to 10 or 15 pounds heavier?"
Anthony Brown (6'1", 160 lbs) played the larger role of the two last season, appearing in 29 of Green Bay's 36 games including starting five. He saw his minutes dry up towards the end of the season, however, and didn't play more than 7 minutes in any game after Green Bay's 99-66 win over Chicago State on January 19th. He averaged 2.6 points in 11.2 minutes per game.
Avery Brown (6'2", 165) played a total of 81 minutes last season, appearing in 15 games. He scored 28 points total during his limited minutes.
The Phoenix will feature prized freshman Trevor Anderson at point guard along with seniors Warren Jones and Tevin Findlay as well as junior Khalil Small, all of which are able to play both guard spots. Charles Cooper will also likely play shooting guard against taller lineups.
"We have a lot of guys to try to play, and them playing five, six, seven, eight minutes a game, right now I thought that redshirting would be better and they both agreed with it," Darner said.