If it wasn’t for Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, Ja’Tavia Tapley would not be current national women’s basketball Player of the Week for Arizona State.
Connecting those dots takes some work but is worth doing now that Tapley has broken through to somewhat become the face of ASU in the wake of its weekend sweep of then two top five-ranked teams.
Tapley was a four-star recruit from Jacksonville, Fla., ranked No. 68 nationally in the 2016 HoopGurlz top 100. She could have gone anywhere in the South but had a different vision for college that meshed with what Cooper-Dyke saw for USC.
“A big part of that decision was me not wanting to be near home,” Tapley said. “I wanted to get away and try new things. Cooper was a great leader and coach so I just felt like I would really do a good job under her and at that school. My mom (Sylvia Johnson) was a big part of that decision as well.”
Tapley, of course, knew of Cooper-Dyke’s playing credentials — in college, internationally and in the early WNBA — that took her into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. And that she coached the Phoenix Mercury before a college coaching path that brought her back to USC.
USC’s four-player 2016 recruiting class, ranked No. 12 nationally, was supposed to be the one that brought the Trojans back to national prominence. On signing day, in November 2015, Cooper-Dyke said of Tapley: “Explosive, skilled and versatile, Ja’Tavia’s upside is off the charts. She can break you down off the dribble, yet her quick elevation to her jumper is silky smooth. She pounds the glass, alters shots and will be a match-up nightmare.”
Tapley embraced Cooper-Dyke’s drive and determination to win.
But after a 14-16 season and ninth-place Pac-12 finish in 2016-17, Cooper-Dyke resigned, saying what was best for the university was that “I step aside (after going 70-57 in four seasons) and let someone else lead this team.”
Mark Trakh replaced Cooper-Dyke (now coaching at Texas Southern) for his second stint at USC. And the class of 2016 began to leave, first Valerie Higgins (to Pacific) and Asiah Jones (Virginia Tech) where they are redshirt juniors then Minyon Moore (Oregon) and Tapley (ASU) as grad transfers after last season.
ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne remembers first hearing Tapley, who averaged 6 points/5 rebounds in 2018-19, was on the market when her team was about to lose three seniors posts from an NCAA Sweet 16 team.
“I immediately told Jackie (Moore, ASU associate head coach), let’s find out,” Turner Thorne said. “Jackie is good friends with her club coach from Florida.
“I always thought she was very talented, but we didn’t know her at all as a person. Even the USC coaches say great things about her as a person. She was an athlete that had size. It was the perfect situation. She has a sense of urgency and is doing everything she can to get better. We need her so that’s all the difference in the world. We need each other.”
In ASU’s first two games, Turner Thorne started 6-2 senior Jamie Ruden at center at brought 6-3 Tapley off the bench. Ruden missed the next nine games with a foot injury so now Tapley is a 14-game starter, leading the No. 18 Sun Devils in scoring (11.9 ppg) and rebounds (7.1 pg). Now, they are functioning well in a post rotation where both are getting time with the first team.
Last week against in wins over then No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State, Tapley had a combined 30 points and 12 rebounds, elevating her above her teammates for individual recognition after an historic weekends by then unranked ASU.
At minimum, Tapley is improving her marketability for a pro international contract. She might be working her way into being a WNBA draft pick.
What Tapley understands, and why she’s fitting is so well with ASU’s quartet of four-year seniors (the No. 10-ranked 2016 class) is that the Sun Devils’ greatest strength is their team concept and ability to go 10-11 players deep.
“One thing that comes from me getting this opportunity and (national/Pac-12) awards is saying I can’t do it without my teammates,” Tapley said. “All praise goes to them and my coaches and everybody else around me because if we didn’t have each other then we wouldn’t be able to win the games we’ve been winning and play as hard as we’ve been playing.”
Tapleysaid playing against former USC teammate Moore last week in the ASU-Oregon game was a reminder of how the college path began for both players and how both now are finishing on top-25 teams that they didn’t imagine playing for in 2016.
“It was crazy, I wouldn’t say it was weird though,” Tapley said. “Her family is literally like my second family. We’re very close like sisters. Even playing against each other, it was positive vibes between us. I just made I focused on my team and how we played. I didn’t something like that get to me.”
Arizona State at Washington, 8 p.m. Friday, Alaska Airlines Arena, Seattle, Pac-12 Network, KDUS-AM (1060) — ASU (13-4, 3-2 Pac-12) is ranked No. 18/19 in the national polls after a pair of wins over then top five-ranked teams last week. Washington (10-5, 2-2) is on a two-game losing streak, falling 66-59 to Washington State after beating the Cougars on Dec. 29.
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