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Ferocious Foe on the court, gentle giant off

The Roswell Coyotes won the 2010 Class 4A State Championship after defeating Española Valley, 63-60. (Daily Record File Photo)

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It took Britt Cooper longer to adjust from being the assistant coach of the Roswell Coyotes in 1994, to being the man. It didn’t take Cooper long to put his stamp on Coyote basketball.

Roswell head coach Britt Cooper, back, hugs Coyote manager Shyrone Hilliard after winning a second straight state championship in 2010. (Daily Record File Photo)

Cooper had the distinction of being 6-foot-6 and towering over his players, opposing teams, and officials. Cooper had no trouble getting his message across to his team if they were playing poorly, and most importantly, to officials.

If officials forgot Cooper’s size as he towered over them, they could not mistake his voice. It was a commanding, booming voice that could be heard over thunder and lightning. His voice wasn’t so much to work officials as much as it was to get himself and teams going.

When Cooper took over as coach, he wanted opponents to know that when they played Roswell on the road and for sure at the Coyote Den, the Coyotes were going to get after them for all 32 minutes of the game.

Cooper’s goals

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One of his goals was to make sure his teams never lost at home and he almost accomplished that going 118-4 at the Coyote Den in the last nine years of his career. He also wanted to be a team that played as well on the road as they did at home. They almost did that winning 87% of their games in his nine years of his career as head coach.

Lastly, Cooper wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the best coaches and win titles. Cooper went from giant slayer to giant when Roswell beat the late great Ralph Tasker in 1998 for his first signature win. It was Tasker’s last visit to the Coyote Den.

“That win really got us going,” Cooper said. “We never beat Hobbs and it was the first time since 1987 season.”

Not only did that win get him and his team going, but Cooper started moving past great coaches in District IV at the time. Eventually, the last name Cooper would move past was Roswell’s own Poe Corn to become Roswell’s all-time win leader with 416-200 wins. He won 32 games as the boys’ coach at Dora and went 27-23 as the girls’ coach at Dora. Cooper’s overall record is 475-259 in 30 years of coaching.

Cooper left records that might not ever be broken. If a coach were to break his records, it will take sustained excellence and longevity. Cooper led Roswell to the state tournament 16 times with the last 13 in a row. Cooper led the Coyotes to eight Final Four appearances.

He won state titles in 2009, 2010, 2014, and his final one in 2017. Cooper had not lost a district game since 2012 and was an unbelievable 118-4 at home. Cooper was in the National Federation of State High School Association of Boys Basketball Coach of the Year in 2015 and was inducted into the New Mexico High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor in 2016.

“I told Britt (Cooper) that he left too early,” Marty Saiz said. “Britt left some wins on the table. He’s one of the coaches that won back-to-back championships. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had the desire to come back and coach at some point.”

Blue Trophies

Cooper, felt snake-bitten because it took him 17 years to win. Roswell went to the state’s final four in 2003,’05, and ‘07. They were close but could never get to the finals. Cooper reflected on his four championships, starting with 2009 when Roswell beat Artesia, 59-50.

In 2009, Roswell beat Albuquerque Academy in the first round, and then had a measure of revenge and beat Deming in the semifinals. Earlier that year, Deming beat Roswell in double overtime. The next afternoon, Roswell lost to Silver City, and then to Hobbs, 87-60, as the Coyotes would lose three in a row for the last time in Cooper’s career.

Roswell had lost to Artesia in the last game of the regular season, 47-35. Roswell won the district on a point spread, and Roswell beat them in the district, 63-45, and the state championship, 59-50.

“If you had told me on the bus ride home from Silver City that we would win the state that year,” Cooper said, “I would have not believed you. Silver wasn’t bad, but they should not have beat us. After that weekend, we got mentally tougher and it made us better.”

2010 season

In 2010, Roswell beat Española, 63-60. In 2010, Roswell had lost one starter and had everyone coming back from the 2009 championship team. Cooper felt like his team surprised the other teams with his juniors. Many of the pundits felt Roswell was a year away from doing damage.

The 2010 team went undefeated in New Mexico, going 25-0 and the only games the team lost to was to Denver Lincoln, 62-50, in the first round of the Artesia Tournament. Cooper felt if his team had been healthy with Keydrick Allen, Roswell’s starting point guard being injured, and if A.J. Peralta did not have a back injury, Roswell would have never lost to Lincoln.

Estrella Foothills, 73-53, out of Arizona: The tournament was played in Clovis and it was called the Phoenix-Arizona Challenge. Cooper remembers beating a tough North team from Arizona the night before to win 78-76 and then had to come back the following afternoon and play Estrella Foothills with former NBA player Hershey Hawkins’ two sons on that team. Both of those kids went on to play major college basketball.

“I told Marty (Saiz) Phoenix North was the best team we beat all season,” Cooper said. “As far as one true team we shouldn’t have beat, but it took everything we had and that’s why Goodrich beat us on Saturday. We didn’t have anything left. In the long run, that loss against Estrella Foothills made us a lot better. We never saw a team as good as them during the rest of the season.”

For the 2010 championship team, Roswell had to play St. Pius X, which was a smaller team than Roswell. The Sartans spread the floor on the Coyotes and slowed the game down. The Sartans had the Coyotes down 12-11 at halftime.

At halftime Cooper told the team, Peralta touches the ball every time. Cooper told his team he didn’t care if someone shoots it, but the ball goes through Peralta. Roswell was 14-of-15 in the second half and turned a tight game into a rout with a 42-27 win. Roswell defeated Volcano Vista in the semifinals 65-57 and beat Española Valley in the championship game, 63-60.

Last stand

The 2014 team went 29-1 with the only loss coming to Carlsbad, 63-49. After that loss, Cooper told his team to look themselves in the mirror because that loss should have never happened. Cooper told them they were too good of a team to lose. He told them they got to thinking they were better than they were and losing to Carlsbad proved they could be beaten by anybody. For the rest of the season, Roswell never played another single-digit game that year. Roswell got revenge on Carlsbad when they beat them at the Coyote Den, 66-48 later. Roswell would beat Los Lunas, 56-41.

The 2017 championship team was 7-3 at one point, but went onto win the title and go 25-4. The turning point in the season according to Cooper, was switching off-guard Chris Mesquita to point guard. Roswell lost at Portales to go 7-3 before the Christmas break.

Cooper feels like the team hit another gear when he made that move. Against Kirtland Central, Mesquita hit three threes in a row in overtime to give Roswell an 81-80 win in the quarterfinals.

In the semifinal game, Roswell was down against Del Norte in the second quarter. Cooper called a timeout and ripped into his team. He felt like they were playing scared and going through the motions. Roswell went on a 13-0 run to end the second quarter, and in the third quarter, Roswell went on a 12-0 run to take a commanding lead. Roswell would win easily, 77-46.

When it was all said and done, Cooper was able to walk off in victory by winning a state title in his last game as head coach. Not only was his Coyote team ready to play against Capital, but the game was also over within the locker room before Roswell hit the court. Roswell won, 74-53 at The Pit.

“No one knew it was going to be my last game,” Cooper said. “I did. As a coach, you always want that perfect game. That first half and in particular that first quarter we played on all cylinders.

“I look back on it now and we had a crazy run,” Cooper said. “We were putting up some numbers. No one had a better run than us for a decade. Roswell was a perfect fit for me, the hard-nosed kids I coached were great for the style I played. I think I was meant to be in Roswell. Without the support of my family, wife, Anjy Cooper; Desiree Cooper, daughter; and Sterling Cooper, son; I couldn’t have been successful without them. A coaches’ family always suffers, I was gone a lot. If you’re going to be successful as a coach, you have to put the time in.”

There are two things that await Cooper that are out of his control. One is being inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame. Cooper was nominated in 2019. Finally, parts of the community feel there should be strong consideration at RISD to name Roswell’s basketball court after him: Britt Cooper Court.

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