Auburn freshman Sharife Cooper will declare for the 2021 NBA draft and forgo his remaining college eligibility by hiring an agent, he told ESPN.
"This season was a roller coaster filled with many ups and some downs," Cooper said. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything, even through the bad times I enjoyed every second at Auburn."
Cooper, the No. 17 prospect in the ESPN 100, was named to the SEC's All-Rookie team after averaging 20.2 points and 8.1 assists per game.
He is considered one of the top point guard prospects in the 2021 draft class thanks to his ability to create offense for himself or teammates. He was one of only two freshmen in the past 30 years of college basketball, along with Oklahoma's Trae Young, to average over 20 points and 8 assists per game.
Cooper is intriguing to NBA teams due to his sharp ballhandling skills and his ability to get anywhere he wants on the court with a blazingly fast first step. He accelerates and decelerates past defenders effortlessly, while possessing the vision and creativity to find teammates on the move. According to Synergy Sports Technology data, Cooper led all of college basketball with the 39.6 points per game he created via assists or his own scoring, more than 20% higher than the next best prospect expected to be drafted (Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu).
"I believe NBA teams only saw a glimpse of what I can do, whether that be my passing creativity, basketball IQ, leadership, as well as impact on winning," Cooper said. "I would like to say I have a lot more to show."
Cooper came to Auburn with significant fanfare, as a five-star recruit and a McDonald's All American. His season was set back when he was held out of Auburn's first 12 games as the NCAA initially refused to certify his eligibility. Cooper missed 72 days of practice before being cleared to play the night before Auburn's game against in-state rival Alabama on Jan. 9. Thrown into the fire against one of the top teams in the country, Cooper delivered 26 points, 9 assists and 3 steals in 32 minutes in a narrow loss.
"It was mentally frustrating," Cooper said. "Working so hard to prepare for your first college season, and a couple months before the season it's all taken away without knowing why or if it will ever come back.
"On top of that, I couldn't practice or be in the gym until late at night by myself. The day before we played Alabama, I get a text saying, 'Lace your shoes up, you're playing tomorrow.' It was crazy because I didn't even practice the plays yet and was supposed to play around 10-15 minutes. But looking back, I couldn't be more thankful for my coaches, teammates, family and support staff for being in my corner that whole time."
Auburn self-imposed a postseason ban on its 2020-21 season in November as part of the fallout from the FBI's investigation into former assistant coach Chuck Person, making Cooper and his teammates unable to play in the SEC or NCAA tournaments.
The 2021 NBA draft will be held July 29, and the league has scheduled its draft combine for June 21, featuring competitive 5-on-5 action "subject to public health conditions."