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Student-Athlete of the Week: Cooper Sheldon

Series: Student-Athlete of the Week | Story 25

Jocelyn Rowley

Niwot senior Cooper Sheldon's name is often confused with that of nerdy Big Bang Theory character Sheldon Cooper, but their basketball styles are nothing alike.

A lot of students play basketball in high school, but few inhabit the sport the way Niwot's Cooper Sheldon does. The six-foot, four-inch senior became a serious student of the game after taking it up in middle school, and even now dedicates at least part of every day to training or studying film. It's evident on the court, where the veteran point guard commands the Cougars' offense, and often gets the best out of his teammates. It's also evident off the court, where he serves as the team's emotional leader, and his singular drive to win helps fire up the team between games.

Sheldon recently accepted an offer from Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, and is preparing to play the game he loves at the next level. As he winds up his career with Niwot basketball, he reflected on the lessons he learned during his time with the tumultuous program and what they might bring as he looks ahead to the future.

"At the end of the day, basketball is just who I am," Sheldon said. "I think it's taught me a lot about hard work; it's taught me about leadership; there's just so many aspects. You have to be disciplined. As you get older in life, you have to have certain traits that I think basketball can teach you."

In Sheldon's first two seasons with the Niwot varsity, the Cougars went 9-37, including a 1-22 mark his sophomore year. Niwot basketball seemed to turn a corner in 2019-20 under first-year head coach Clay Wittrock, and there's no question that Sheldon was instrumental in that. As captain, he led the team in scoring and assists, helping to deliver its first winning record (13-11) since 2015, and first playoff berth since 2017.

Sheldon hesitated to take much credit for the turnaround, though, instead pointing to his fellow seniors (Kyle Reeves, Austin Rathburn, Jarrett Noterman, Noah Pena, and Milo Ostwald) who single-mindedly rallied to save their high school careers from infamy.

"The seniors, we had a goal in mind, and maybe we didn't achieve everything, but I think we went out and got what we wanted," he said. "This year, we were just together as a team. In the past few years-and this isn't against anyone-I wouldn't say we weren't a team at times, but this year it felt like we were always here together."

For Wittrock, Sheldon has been indispensable this season, both on the floor and in the locker room. With his "high basketball IQ," the point guard has helped ease the longtime assistant coach into his new role at the helm, and made what could have been an awkward transition "fun" for both the players and coaching staff.

"To have someone who came in with such a desire to be successful this year and also that emotional piece and having the mental side of the game has been crucial," Wittrock said. "A lot of times, Coop and I, we talk about basketball on a level I don't necessarily get to with the other guys. It's neat to see some of the guys are now learning that, and coming along. He's been a mentor to them too."

On the court, Sheldon has been the leader the sometimes inconsistent squad often needed, Wittrock said.

"We go a lot of the way Coop goes. He's such a competitor, and he gets guys up. And there's times when guys need that fire, and he brings so much competitive energy that he's able to do that. On the floor, he's able to talk his teammates through things that they may be struggling with, and it's crucial that he has the respect of his teammates that way."

For Sheldon, assuming the captain's role this season for Niwot has been thorny at times, but ultimately proved one his most gratifying accomplishments.

"You have to hold everyone accountable, but you have to hold yourself accountable first. If you want to be tough on your teammates, you have to make sure you have the right to say it, because you're doing what you're supposed to on the court. They're not going to listen to you if you're not doing it."

On the student side of things, Sheldon has particularly enjoyed "learning a lot about the body" in his IB sports science and nutrition class with Mrs. Agho. At Doane, he plans to study sports broadcasting or training or "something in the sports field." He would also like to continue his basketball career beyond even the collegiate level, "but if that doesn't work out, then I plan to stay around the game and coach and teach others about the great game of basketball."


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