‘I had every expectation of playing this season’: Kenny Cooper addresses denial of NCAA eligibility waiver

WKU senior guard Kenny Cooper looks toward the floor while his team warms up to play against the Cardinals. The Cardinals defeated the Hilltoppers 71-54 in Bridgestone Arena on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Nashville.

Jesse Spencer

Senior point guard Kenny Cooper met with the press for the first time as a member of the WKU men’s basketball team on Thursday morning in Diddle Arena, and the Lipscomb transfer expressed disappointment about sitting out until the 2020-21 season.

The Hilltopper basketball program announced Cooper’s request for immediate eligibility was denied by the NCAA on Dec. 10, a ruling that came many months after he transferred from Lipscomb on April 15 and officially signed with WKU on April 24.

Head coach Rick Stansbury said Monday that Cooper’s waiver appeal was denied because Lipscomb “didn’t support” his decision to leave. Other transfers around the country received eligibility because the “school they left from supported” them, Stansbury said.

Cooper began his availability by revealing his dismay regarding the circumstances surrounding his 2019-20 season.

“I was very disappointed at first,” Cooper said. “I had every expectation of playing this season.”

“Disappointed that Lipscomb didn’t support it,” Cooper continued. “But on the same breath, I have to get ready for next year. I can’t sulk, I can’t be sad. I got to look for ways to improve my game and improve as a person.”

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU Herald Sports” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Senior guard Kenny Cooper addressed the media Thursday about his eligibility waiver being denied by the NCAA and Lipscomb’s involvement in the process. “I had every expectation of playing this season, and I was disappointed that Lipscomb didn’t support it,” Cooper said. <a href="https://t.co/AYNWZvegQZ">pic.twitter.com/AYNWZvegQZ</a></p>— WKU Herald Sports (@wkuheraldsports) <a href="https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1207713400379322369?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 19, 2019</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1207713400379322369″ type=”twitter”}}

Multiple requests for comment from the Lipscomb athletics department were never returned, but the university provided an official statement in an email to the Bowling Green Daily News.

“This is certainly not the first time that a student athlete has transferred from Lipscomb University to another institution,” the statement read. “Understanding that the NCAA waiver process no longer asks the prior school’s opinion in a transfer situation, in cases like this one, we’ve chose to neither advocate against nor advocate for a particular ruling. Rather, we chose simply to provide the facts and information required and to let the NCAA handle the determination from there.”

Cooper said he’d seen Lipscomb’s assessment of its role in the process, but he respectfully disagreed.

“They said they weren’t either going to support it or not support it,” Cooper said. “But with the new transfer portal thing that’s out, really the only thing you need is your school to support it.”

“When it comes to supporting and not supporting, you either do or you don’t,” Cooper continued. “They chose not to. They tried to say that they tried to stay in the middle ground, but like I said, it’s either you do or you don’t when it comes to a waiver.”

Cooper confirmed a statement made by Stansbury, as the the 6-foot guard said he’d personally tried to gain the support of Lipscomb administration during his NCAA appeal. 

“It was drawn out — it was long and drawn out,” Cooper said. “I talked to the AD and [current Lipscomb head coach Lennie Acuff] a few times, just trying to persuade them to get them to approve the waiver, but we were unsuccessful. It sucks, it stinks and it stings. But at the same time, I have to use that to grow going forward.”

Cooper also addressed why he left Nashville, his hometown and the city where he started 67 contests and won 72 games during his first three years of college basketball at Lipscomb.

 “Our coach left,” Cooper said about former Lipscomb head coach Casey Alexander leaving the university to become the head coach at Belmont on April 10. “He recruited me since sophomore year of high school, so that first guy that started recruiting me.”

“We built a relationship,” Cooper continued. “After three years there, when he decided to leave, I felt like I had done a lot for Lipscomb. I had three good, hard years, 20-plus win seasons. I just felt like I did a lot there, and that’s the guy who recruited me. That’s the guy that wanted me to come to Lipscomb, and once he left I opened up my recruiting again.”

In addition to the departure of his former head coach, there were also academic influences that pushed Cooper to look elsewhere for his final year in college, including religion courses that were required at Lipscomb but won’t be necessary for graduation at WKU.

“I wanted to graduate on time, and I think I was a couple of hours behind,” Cooper said. “So, it’s good to know that I’m going to be able to graduate and then look forward to my grad year.”

Cooper said he’s received an outpouring of support during his quest, and he expressed gratitude toward all the people that supported him even when Lipscomb did not.

“It means the world just knowing that I have people in my corner,” Cooper said. “And even people back in Nashville that love me, like my family and my friends, they’re supporting me. That’s made it a lot easier to transition through this hard process.”

Regardless of his current situation, Cooper said he knows he still has a job to do. Cooper has been preparing junior Taveion Hollingsworth and freshman Jordan Rawls, WKU’s current options at point guard, for this season and himself for next season.

“Just improving my game and becoming a better teammate,” Cooper said. “It’s tough sitting over there, but everyday in practice I’m working my tail off. I’m trying to be the best scout player I can be this year, so until next year, that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

Cooper said he plans to “get familiar” with Bowling Green and WKU during his gap year, but the transfer will be eligible to play anywhere in the country as a graduate senior next year.

He went on to say he doesn’t know what his future will hold, but Cooper said he likes Bowling Green and WKU, which have been “really comfortable” for him since his arrival.

“It was really tough to begin with,” Cooper said. “But my main goal now is to be a good teammate, be a good student here and help our team be the best we can be.”

WKU will be without Cooper and injured sophomore center Charles Bassey for the remainder of the 2019-20 season, but the future looks bright for WKU if Stansbury can persuade both Bassey and Cooper to stay on the Hill for the 2020-21 campaign.

Reporter Jesse Spencer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Jesse on Twitter at @jesse_spencer_5.