DeShaun Cooper's days of being a spectator at Northwest Missouri State basketball games are over for now.
Asked for an update on Cooper's health status Tuesday, Northwest head coach Ben McCollum said his injured star point guard is back to 100 percent and ready to play right now.
"He's healed," said McCollum. "He's good to go. He's probably as good as he's ever been."
A first team All-MIAA selection as a junior and an MIAA Player of the Year candidate, Cooper encountered knee tendinitis issues last preseason that lingered to the point where he had to sit out all of 2012-13.
It wasn't until late March or April, just past the end of the season, that Cooper began feeling normal again.
"Probably in the postseason at some point he started to gain the strength back in his leg and started performing like he was before," said McCollum. "When you sit and you're just able to watch, you kind of improve your intelligence and you kind of learn from watching."
Currently at home enjoying a break from school, Cooper spent the first two months of summer in Maryville lifting weights, playing pick-up games and going through individual workouts.
He has no restrictions or limitations at this point after not being able to regain his explosiveness during the season.
"He knew eventually he would get there," said McCollum. "He's a tough enough kid to get himself back healthy and ready to play."
By redshirting last year, Cooper still has one year of eligibility left. He will be the elder statesmen on next year's Northwest team and a certain starter in the backcourt.
Defensive specialist Matt Wallace started in Cooper's place most of last year, and the Bearcats could try and use both at the same time. McCollum says they'll have to "earn" their playing time first before any decisions are made.
The Bearcats went 21-10 in Cooper's absence, finishing fifth in the MIAA during the regular season and a close second to Central Missouri in the MIAA Tournament.
Northwest returns all of its main contributors from last year except All-MIAA honorable guard DeAngelo Hailey and sharpshooter Alex Sullivan.
Regaining a better version of Cooper, who averaged 14.7 points in 2011-12, makes the Bearcats one of, if not the most stacked team in the MIAA next year.
"I think every year we'd like to consider ourselves a contender," said McCollum. "I don't think this year more than any other year that's changed. It all depends on how hungry you are, how healthy we stay. All those different factors come into play. On paper, I think it looks good, but it certainly isn't a sure thing."
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