Meet KWC Men’s Basketball Head Coach Drew Cooper
Photos by: Jamie Plain
When Kentucky native Drew Cooper accepted a position as Kentucky Wesleyan College Men’s basketball coach, he knew the bar was set high. Now enjoying his sixth season with KWC, Cooper has his sights set on returning the team to its glory days of competing on a national level.
With eight NCAA titles under its belt, KWC basketball is no stranger to high-level competition. In 2001, after losing in the previous year’s final, the team defeated Washburn to win their record eighth Division II national championship.
“This is one of the tougher coaching jobs in the nation because of the precedent this program has always had in terms of what the community and alumni expect,” Cooper said. “We always have our sights set on competing for the national championship like we did in 2001 and want to be in a place where that’s what the expectation is each year.”
After navigating the team through the COVID pandemic, Cooper guided the team to finishing with a 10-6 record, including a 9-5 mark in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. KWC was one of only three teams in the G-MAC to obtain a ranking within the Atlantic Region.
Thriving in the midst of new challenges seems to be a hallmark of Cooper’s time with the team. The nature of recruiting has changed in recent years, primarily in two areas.
Cooper explained, “One, KWC is no longer able to extend a refund check to full scholarship athletes who are also Pell grant eligible. Second, during this COVID era, college athletes are playing five or six years. Not having graduate school as an option limits what we can offer academically to our pool of players who stay past the traditional four years.”
“All that said, we have been able to do some great things during my time here,” Cooper reflected. “We had a nice win last year versus Hillsdale; at the time, they were ranked seventh in the nation. That was the program’s first win against a ranked opponent since the 2012-13 season. We made the conference tournament championship game in 2020 and were regionally ranked in 2020-21. These things all came after our conference expanded in 2017 into one of the premier conferences in the nation. Challenges aside, I’m confident if we stay the course, the stars will align, and we’ll get back to consistently being in the mix for national recognition.”
In addition to excelling in athletics, young men who come to Kentucky Wesleyan for the basketball program are also thriving academically. Under Cooper’s direction, the team GPA has gone from 2.7 from the year prior to his arrival to over a 3.3, demonstrating his commitment to whole person development.
“We take a lot of pride in our recruits,” said Cooper. “My job is not just to win games, but also to ensure that our players leave here ready to take on the next forty years of life. When we know they have a lot of support from home and that their families have a big picture mentality as well, we know they will be successful in whatever kind of career they choose down the road.”
Looking to the future, Cooper has faith that KWC is a school that is built for long-term sustainability.
“You don’t come here as a staff member of a student without making a very significant impact on the entire community,” Cooper reflected. “This is not a large school of 50 thousand plus students where people blend in; for example, last summer I painted my own office! Coaches here do things like that.”
Cooper said he would like to see continued community involvement with KWC’s men’s basketball, as well as institutional growth.
“We are all doing our part to help the college realize its long-term vision, and that starts with Dr. Mitzel insisting on high standards for all coaches and players.”
Cooper spoke of the high level of basketball played at KWC, and the integral role it has always played in the community. “This is Owensboro, Kentucky,” said Cooper. “This town is big on sports, and this state is big on basketball. It’s a natural relationship between our program and the community here, and I’ve grown to adore the people who support us.”
“We beat the University of Louisville at an exhibition game on October 30 of this year,” Cooper reflected. “The community holds high expectations for our program, and it feels great when we deliver. When people think of Owensboro, they think of two things: barbecue and Kentucky Wesleyan basketball.”
It’s clear that the future looks bright for Kentucky Wesleyan men’s basketball, and that the club may very well soon be the new star team in the Commonwealth. OL