Gaming & E-sport

Zia Cooke interview: South Carolina guard on Dawn Staley, women’s NCAA tournament, and viral high school video

Since Zia Cooke confirmed up at South Carolina, the Gamecocks have morphed into probably the most dominant groups in all of sports activities. A 3-year starter at level guard, Cooke has been the ground common for a program that has gone 85-7 since she confirmed up on campus.

The one factor lacking is a nationwide championship.

South Carolina went 32-1 in his Cooke’s freshman yr however the NCAA match was canceled due to the beginning of the pandemic. The Gamecocks reached the Remaining 4 as a No. 2 seed final yr solely to lose by one level in a heartbreaker to eventual champion Stanford. All Cooke did was rating a game-high 25 factors within the defeat.

The Gamecocks have bounced again stronger than ever this season. They’re No. 1 within the AP Ballot as they enter the SEC match at 27–1 general. Whereas nationwide participant of the yr entrance runner Aliyah Boston will get many of the consideration, Cooke has continued to be a dynamic offensive guard who can rating off the dribble and get her teammates concerned. Head coach Daybreak Staley already gained a nationwide championship with this system behind A’ja Wilson in 2017, and this yr’s run by way of the nation’s most troublesome schedule once more places South Carolina in place to win all of it.

Earlier than Cooke leads South Carolina into the NCAA match, she’s working with H&R Block because the face of a marketing campaign to commit $1 million to ladies’s sports activities. Cooke chatted with SB Nation concerning the NIL, her standout profession at South Carolina, the legend of Daybreak Staley, and the stress of being the favourite within the NCAA match.

SB Nation: What’s it prefer to be concerned on this H&R Block initiative, and why is it so thrilling for you?

Zia Cooke: It’s really a blessing to be part of this, particularly figuring out that H&R Block is shining a light-weight on ladies. And it’s an incredible alternative for me to be a kind of ladies that they’ll shine the sunshine on. With me not figuring out a lot about taxes and thenm serving to me with my NIL earnings, it has really been a blessing.

SBN: How is the NIL modified issues for you? Clearly it’s a brand new expertise for everybody concerned. As a former five-star recruit and big-time faculty basketball participant, what have the advantages been for gamers like your self?

Cooke: The NIL has been good for me, particularly attending to have all the precise individuals round me, my agent, my dad and mom, and even a few of my pals which might be right here for me serving to me do it. However it’s additionally only a lot to handle. I’ve faculty, I’m a pupil athlete, so generally it may be difficult. However with having these nice individuals round me that need the very best for me and likewise, like I mentioned, with H&R Block serving to me with my taxes, taking a load off for me positively helps me out quite a bit.

SBN: I really wrote an article I wrote about you in 2018 while you have been a recruit. You scored 43 factors in a highschool recreation and also you had Likelihood the Rapper and Dwyane Wade and all these well-known individuals tweeting about you. I learn that in that factor, you began a Twitter account since you are getting a lot publicity. What was that like considering again to that second?

Cooke: That was positively a life altering second for me personally. I bought loads of recognition off that. Lots of people began to know who I used to be off that, it was positively a life altering second. I didn’t even anticipate what I did to explode the way in which it did. I actually simply made an Instagram put up and lots of people have been reaching out to me about it. I bought loads of love from loads of celebrities and to at the present time I nonetheless have relationships with nice individuals which were there ever since that occurred. However it’s actually loopy as a result of earlier than I went viral, I used to be sort of already doing the identical sort of stuff. I simply wasn’t caught on digital camera. So positively that second was a life altering second for me.

SBN: You have been one of many high recruits within the nation popping out of highschool. You select South Carolina over provides from many different massive time applications. In fact, earlier than Daybreak Staley got here to South Carolina, South Carolina was not like a powerhouse in ladies’s basketball however has since become one. So I’m curious, simply going again to your recruiting, like, what was it about Daybreak or about this system itself that attracted you to South Carolina?

Cooke: Oh, man, I’ve to present all of the credit score to educate Staley. I feel she was the one that really caught my consideration probably the most. In fact, I like the assistant coaches and the teammates that I had met throughout that point, however I actually fell in love with coach Staley and simply the whole lot that she informed me. She saved it actual with me about the whole lot, and I simply knew that she would be capable of open up new doorways for me and assist me grow to be the participant that I needed to be.

SBN: You began each recreation I feel your freshman yr, and the crew was great with just one loss. Then the NCAA match will get canceled due to the beginning of the pandemic. In fact, everybody in the entire world needed to cope with the pandemic, nevertheless it should have been a wild expertise for you and your crew as a result of the group was having such a charmed season. What was it like going by way of that?

Cooke: That was positively actually powerful for me. However actually, I actually felt for seniors Kiki (Mikiah Herbert Harrigan) and Ty (Tyasha Harris) as a result of it was their final yr. I do know that was one thing that they actually needed to get finished and the truth that they couldn’t get it finished, that was what damage me probably the most. However positively that second was loopy for us. It was a surreal second as a result of we actually felt like we had the chance to win a nationwide championship. We thought we had all of the items to do it and we simply bought caught quick on that.

SBN: The subsequent yr, final season, ended with a one-point loss to Stanford within the Remaining 4. That was such an incredible recreation simply from a fan’s perspective to see two nice groups go at it like that. I performed very well, main the crew with 25 factors. What do you keep in mind about that recreation? How have you ever kind of used that to gasoline your success this yr?

Cooke: It was a very good recreation. The entire expertise was actually good for us. I’ll say, as you mentioned, it was a reasonably good recreation. For myself, that second simply confirmed me what we’re able to, to know that we will make it to the Remaining 4. We didn’t have Ty or Kiki anymore, and people have been the leaders for us. Once they ended up leaving, we sort of didn’t know what was subsequent for us, however we simply stayed the course. We stayed collectively as a crew and we did the very best we might to get the place we bought.

SBN: South Carolina has performed an excellent, tremendous troublesome schedule and nonetheless ended the common season at 27-1 and at No. 1 within the polls. You performed UConn, Stanford, Maryland, NC State, Oregon. And people are all video games you gained. And that’s all exterior of convention play. Had been you trying ahead to the problem or sort of dreading it? It needs to be onerous to rise up each single night time like that. How do you suppose that schedule goes that will help you in March?

Cooke: Oh, man, I can’t lie. These video games that we did play high 25 groups within the nation, I felt prefer it was again to again to again. It was positively onerous to do. However we got here out on high of that. And like I mentioned earlier than, that simply reveals us what we’re able to as a crew. Enjoying towards a number of the high groups within the nation and nonetheless popping out on high. It simply ready us. I feel it’s finest to play video games like that moderately than taking part in different groups that we all know might be to problem ourselves and present what we’re able to.

SBN: After which in fact there’s a single blemish in your report this yr. That’s Mizzou. It was a giant upset as a result of Mizzou just isn’t thought of a powerhouse crew. However I’m simply curious what it’s prefer to have that one loss. Like does that eat away on the crew? Do you’re feeling like, hey, perhaps it’s an excellent factor so we don’t have the stress of an undefeated season in March? What do you kind of take into consideration that recreation now trying again?

Cooke: I gained’t say it was an excellent factor for us however I’m pleased we bought that out early. I’ll say that and I feel it humbled us in a means as a result of like I mentioned, we had simply bought finished being Stanford. We had slightly little bit of break day after which we went straight to taking part in with you and we’d have went into that recreation. We’re not the identical chip on our shoulder that we had positively was a get up name for us to know that we will’t take any crew evenly regardless of the place their rank, regardless of who they’re. We bought to ensure we go into each recreation with the identical mindset which is desirous to win regardless of who steps in entrance of us. So I’ve positively bought that out of the way in which and hopefully this complete run that we will go along with no losses as a result of at this level the whole lot issues. In order that they gave us what we would have liked which was to place that chip again on our shoulder and put together us to win.

SBN: There have been so many nice gamers in ladies’s faculty basketball this yr. Inform me why your teammate Aliyah Boston needs to be nationwide participant of the yr.

Cooke: I feel it’s plainly as a result of the work she’s put in she dominates every time. She doesn’t take any of her opponents evenly. She’s that instance everybody ought to need to be. She places the work in every yr, and grows. She does all issues she needs to be doing to grow to be the participant that she is. I feel it’s actually only a lovely factor to look at the way in which she’s grown over all these years. Yearly she is available in with one thing new. She’s constructing one thing for herself every yr, and it’s only a been a blessing to look at her and see all of the success she’s had.

SBN: As a guard, what’s it prefer to play with a dominant massive like that? It’s bought to make your life a lot simpler.

Cooke: It makes it straightforward. If you miss pictures, you already know you bought a dominant put up participant who will choose up any missed layups or missed pictures. I’m fairly positive if I miss a shot I do know Aliyah has the rebound. One thing coach all the time tells us, ‘simply get it on the rim, and we bought nice rebounders. they’ll get the rebound and put it again up.’ Not even simply that although she’s that teammate that you really want. She’s simply that chief that you really want on each crew. Simply to maintain the crew collectively and preserve you uplifted.

SBN: Are you able to inform us something about Aliyah or coach that followers won’t know?

Aliyah is tremendous goofy off the courtroom. I really feel like she reveals that off the courtroom as properly. It’s not probably the most thrilling, however actually they’re tremendous humble. Even with all of the accolades they’re getting, they’re nonetheless tremendous, tremendous humble. They arrive in and so they don’t act greater than anybody. They deal with us all the identical. Our coach being the SEC coach of the yr and Aliyah being the participant of the yr in our convention, they’re nonetheless the identical individuals. That’s what I like to see, individuals who don’t get massive headed and suppose they’re higher than others. AB is actually that teammate that retains all people equal and doesn’t suppose she’s higher than anybody.

SBN: I’ve observed your recreation may be very bodily. I discovered you performed soccer with the boys in fifth and sixth grade. How did that have form you as an athlete? There’s not loads of younger women who get to do this.

Cooke: It was enjoyable for me. It’s not frequent for a girl to play males’s sports activities, however that’s one thing I needed to do. It’s one thing I feel helped me out with my toughness and my IQ once I’m on the ground. It simply reveals that girls can do the identical factor males can do. Circling that again to H&R Block, they’re placing their mild on ladies. We haven’t been getting the identical quantity of alternatives that males have gotten. I feel H&R Block is shining their mild on us and giving us a good shot to indicate we will do the identical factor males do — and generally we’d even be higher at it. Soccer helped me in loads of other ways. If I might I most likely would have went longer with it. However basketball was what I actually actually needed to do.

SBN: What’s it been prefer to play for coach Staley after spending three years together with her?

Cooke: Coach is a star no matter if we win a nationwide championship or not. She’s that voice. When she walks within the room, you’ll be able to inform she’s somebody helps her tradition and helps her group. And she or he desires what’s proper, desires what’s truthful. That’s who she is. She’s a star. She provides us the facility and information of what it’s prefer to be a lady taking part in excessive stage sports activities. She’s positively somebody I look as much as. And I hope I can grow to be a pacesetter like she is on the ladies’s aspect of sports activities.

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