South Carolina Basketball: Ta’Lon Cooper is the first true point guard in Columbia in a long time

South Carolina basketball has added their first transfer portal commitment in point guard Ta'Lon Cooper. Mandatory Credit: Syndication: Journal-Courier
South Carolina basketball has added their first transfer portal commitment in point guard Ta'Lon Cooper. Mandatory Credit: Syndication: Journal-Courier /

South Carolina basketball had a magical run to the 2017 Final Four, but outside of that, the Gamecocks have not made the NCAA Tournament since the 2003-2004 season.

2023 SEC Legend selection Tre Kelley was the point guard on that year’s South Carolina basketball squad, and he was immediately followed at the position by dynamic scoring point guard Devan Downey. Since then, the Gamecocks have not had a true point guard running the offense in Columbia.

Players like PJ Dozier, Bruce Ellington, Hassani Gravett, Duane Notice, AJ Lawson, and Jermaine Couisnard all were good players who sometimes played the point guard position. None of them, however, operated as the primary facilitators on their teams, and all of them played alongside other ball-dominant guards.

While the Gamecocks will have two off-ball guards who handle the ball some in the 2023-2024 season in Meechie Johnson and Jacobi Wright, it is clear who the team’s point guard is heading into the season.

South Carolina native Ta’Lon Cooper is a graduate student who transferred in from Minnesota for his final year of eligibility, and his presence will allow Johnson and Wright to play off the ball more. Cooper is a veteran player who was among the best assist men in the country last season, averaging 6.3 dimes per game, good for 7th in the entire country.

According to Johnson, Cooper has some “old school” to him, both in his game and in his personality. The “old soul” Cooper doesn’t mind playing “old man basketball” if it’s what is best for his team. At 6’4″ and 200 pounds, Cooper is strong and adept at getting his defender on his back or his hip to gain leverage for an easy shot at the basket, foul, or pass to an open shooter.

With coach Lamont Paris’ commitment to having his team shoot the basketball from outside this season, that playmaking ability will come in handy. Cooper should rack up the assists when wing defenders collapse on him on his methodical drives, leaving lanes open for him to pass the ball to shooters like Johnson, Myles Stute, BJ Mack, and others.

A less-talked-about passing skill in Cooper’s arsenal is his ability to find his big men for dunks. When the defense collapses in on Cooper from the block instead of the wing, he will have plenty of opportunities to give his big fellas the rock. Josh Gray and Collin Murray-Boyles are looking to dunk at any opportunity, while BJ Mack and Stephen Clark are skilled finishers down low.

If he didn’t provide anything as a scorer this season, Ta’Lon Cooper could be a positive player for the Gamecocks with his passing and defensive effort. However, he can score as evidenced by the fact that he has scored about 1200 points in his collegiate career.

Ta’Lon Cooper is a savvy veteran who will be very important to South Carolina basketball’s success this season. If Cooper can lead the offense well, he will be worth a win or two improvement from last year’s record all by himself.

Cooper also could have an impact on the future of Gamecock basketball as true freshman Morris Ugusuk is almost a carbon copy of Cooper in both size and play style. If the fifth-year senior can mentor the first-year freshman, maybe South Carolina basketball won’t have to wait very long for the program’s next floor general.

The Gamecocks will open their season on November 6th against USC-Upstate in Colonial Life Arena.

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