Cooper, Jenkins share special connection
As a member of three consecutive Division I district championship teams, senior post player Destini Cooper of the Reynoldsburg High School girls basketball team has endured her share of pressure.
Other moments of stress came last spring as Cooper adjusted to being on a new AAU team for her U17 season and last summer as she made one of her biggest decisions when she chose her college.
Seemingly standing alongside the 6-foot, four-year starter throughout every key moment of her basketball career -- as well as some enjoyable moments outside the sport -- has been senior guard Yamonie Jenkins.
Cooper and Jenkins are the only members of this year's team who saw action in both 2010 and last season when the Raiders competed in a state semifinal, and they've played on the same AAU team for several years.
Both also signed letters of intent in November to play for Ohio University.
Cooper expects her first season with the Bobcats to feel similarly to last spring when she and Jenkins were new to the All Ohio Black AAU program.
"We were on one AAU team together but left that one for All Ohio, and our first season was kind of nerve-wracking," Cooper said. "The whole time we just tried to talk to each other a lot since we were the new players on the team. It'll probably be that way next year since we'll both be new (at Ohio University)."
The relationship between Cooper and Jenkins began when both played for the same AAU team in fifth grade and has grown over the years, particularly after they learned that they're distantly related.
"She used to ride with me to practice, and our parents are even close," Jenkins said. "We're related by marriage so we've always had that connection. ... We used to always go over to each other's houses and play on trampolines together when we were young. We'd just do a lot of stuff together."
With seniors Aryelle Covington, Kenyell Goodson and T'Shera Lucas leading the way in 2010, Reynoldsburg went 21-6, won its first district title since 1991 and captured its first regional championship.
That season, Cooper averaged seven points and six rebounds and Jenkins averaged 3.7 points.
In a 42-39 overtime loss to Canton McKinley in a state semifinal, Cooper started and played 15 minutes and Jenkins played 19 minutes off the bench.
"I was so nervous that I dribbled it off my foot right when I came in (against McKinley)," Jenkins said. "I've been put in so many situations since then. We've played against so many good players and are more experienced since then."
"Being a freshman coming in, there never was anything like that before, but it was exciting to be able to be there," Cooper said.
The Raiders had just one senior in Kacia Grant in the 2010-11 season and lost to Liberty Township Lakota East 46-44 in a regional semifinal to finish 23-2.
Last season, Reynoldsburg took a perfect record into a state semifinal against Twinsburg but lost 49-41 to finish 26-1. Cooper and Jenkins each played 29 minutes and are among four returnees who saw action in that game along with junior Alyssa Rice and senior Shiloh Murphy.
Last season, Jenkins averaged 5.7 points and 5.6 assists and Cooper averaged 10 points and 7.4 rebounds.
"They've been playing together for a long time, but they're way different," coach Jack Purtell said. "Monie is the more vocal, outgoing, point-guard type of leader and Destini is more quiet and reserved, more of a leader by example the way she goes about her business.
"Destini started as a freshman and Monie came off the bench, cut her teeth as a freshman and ended up playing at the (Schottenstein Center). There's comfort in having been through all they've been through. I've just basically got to make sure they're on the bus."
Ohio University coach Semeka Randall spent several years watching both players, but it was Cooper who verbally committed to play there first.
"We're very good friends, and I actually waited for her decision to make mine," Jenkins said. "We've been through so much together and (Cooper choosing Ohio) impacted my decision."
The Raiders were 10-1 overall and 6-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Newark on Jan. 8.
After playing host to Groveport in a league game Friday, Jan. 11, Reynoldsburg travels Monday, Jan. 14, to face Olentangy Orange in a non-league test. A Division I district runner-up last season, Orange is led by senior Taylor Agler, who also played for All Ohio Black last season.
According to both Cooper and Jenkins, the Raiders grew from their experience Dec. 27, 29 and 30 in the Diamond State Classic in Wilmington, Del.
Reynoldsburg opened with a 56-41 win over Potomac (Md.) Bullis on Dec. 27 in the first round of the eight-team First State Orthopaedics Cup bracket of the Diamond State Classic. Jenkins had 18 points, six steals and five assists.
Then in a semifinal Dec. 29, the Raiders were outscored 15-5 in the third quarter and lost to Brooklyn (N.Y.) Ford 48-41. Murphy had 16 points, Rice scored 10 and Cooper added eight but Jenkins battled foul trouble and scored just three points. St. John's-signee Aaliyah Lewis led Ford with 15 points.
In the consolation game Dec. 30, Reynoldsburg beat Wilmington Ursuline 49-43 as Rice had 22 points, Jenkins scored 12 and Cooper added 10.
Ford lost to Severn (Md.) Spalding 62-51 in the championship game Dec. 30.
According to Jenkins, the fact that Reynoldsburg competed in a tournament with several other future collegians shows how far the program has come since she and Cooper joined it as freshmen.
"We needed a wake-up call," Jenkins said. "We were getting comfortable. We know we're not there yet. I got two quick fouls (against Ford), but I'm glad I got a chance to face (Lewis).
"I love Reynoldsburg. Ever since our freshman year, I've been glad to be a part of it. When we joined the team as freshmen, I knew that we'd have a good year, but the next two years I wasn't expecting us to skyrocket like that. We've helped put Reynoldsburg on the map."