It wasn’t exactly a storybook ending. In fact, it wasn’t anything like how seniors DeAndre “D.D.” Cooper, Barry Hooper, and Jahylek Major could have possibly pictured their playing days at Indian River High School ending.
Despite high hopes for their senior season after making contributions as sophomores on the 2014 team that ended the Indians’ 15-year playoff drought, and bigger contributions as juniors on the 2015 team that narrowly missed a consecutive appearance, the senior trio saw their basketball careers come to a close with a 70-32 loss against St. Thomas More on Tuesday, Feb. 22.
But in facing the state-ranked Ravens (15-5), just because it wasn’t shaping up to be their night, that didn’t mean that the seniors weren’t going to play like it was their last game. In fact, in an unintentionally symbolic gesture, the seniors accounted for all of the Indians’ three-pointers on the night — with Cooper knocking down two, Hooper one and Major one as well.
“We were just saying, ‘Play your heart out, last game. Do it for the fans and for the team,’” said Hooper. “Tonight just wasn’t our night. It came out to a loss, but we all did our best — tried to work hard and play as a team.”
“They always had heart, the seniors did,” added junior guard Colby Chandler. “Barry, DeAndre, Jahlyek — they all had heart. They never gave up, even in a tough game like this game. They just played their hardest.”
In the midst of a rebuilding year, playing around a young team with two starting freshmen, the 5-15 overall record on the year was also an understandably disappointing way to go out. But with head coach B.J. Joseph in his first year at the helm at IR, trying to “change the culture,” as he’s been able to do with programs in Laurel and Milford in the past, seniors including Hooper said they can take solace in being part of the turnaround.
And even though Year 1 of that turnaround is over, Joseph noted that the work involved most definitely is not.
“That’s what it is — it’s the hard-work you do in the off-season that makes a difference in the regular season,” he explained. “That’s what we did at Laurel, and that’s what we did at Milford. First, we gotta get in the weight room, and then we’ve gotta get in the summer leagues.”
While they’ll be without their seniors for that off-season training, the Indians will benefit from returning players including freshman point-guard Jamier Felton and freshman forward Antonio Jones — both of whom will enter their sophomore seasons with a full year of experience under their belts after being called on early and often this season, despite their youth.
“There was not much experience coming back,” said Joseph of the season. “Now these guys have game experience. And you’ve gotta work hard in the off-season, and then you can make a difference.”
The Indians will also benefit from returning upperclassmen including Chandler, forward Isaiah Bratton and guard Mac Smith — who, along with Gerald Foreman, Thomas Dibuo and Jeffrey Dennis, saw considerable court time as juniors.
And, according to Chandler, the entire group is fully buying into the culture that Joseph is trying to establish — ready to step up as leaders and work toward the goal, so that their own careers might see a much different end to the story.
“Now seniors coming up next year, we gotta be role models for the younger guys,” said Chandler. “It takes a lot of hard work. You gotta have that right mindset, but we’re gonna be there next year.”
IR stats: Cooper 2 2-5 12, Bratton 2 2-2 6, Chandler 2 0-0 4, Hooper 0 0-0 3, Major 0-2 3, Felton 1 0-2 2, Jones 0 2-2 2