Since the departure of Auburn one-and-done star Isaac Okoro last year, there has been a lot of discussion about the prospect of the Tigers’ star players leaving within a year of joining the team. With the biggest target of those discussions and worry being current Auburn freshman and star Sharife Cooper. Everyone expected Sharife to be a one-and-done after joining Auburn last year.
However, with the uncertainty of this season due to COVID and with Sharife missing the beginning of Auburn’s season while under investigation by the NCAA, there may be hope. While all Auburn fans saw that investigation as ridiculous and “kangaroo-courtish,” Auburn fans may need to partially thank the NCAA for holding Sharife out of those crucial first eight games. Because those eight games could be one of the main reasons Sharife decides to come back.
The other obvious culprit for Sharife possibly returning would be Auburn not making the postseason, even if they decided to hold themselves out before the season. While Sharife played great this season, it was not the best season for Auburn with how their recent trajectory has been. Auburn finished the season 13-14 overall, with a 7-11 record in the SEC, making them 10th in conference.
Sharife was able to score 20 points per game for these Tigers’, with 8 assists and 4 rebounds on 39% shooting from the field, but also shooting a dismal 22% three-point percentage and averaging four turnovers per game. Based on the rest of the team's performances Sharife was 9th best on the team for shooting percentage among qualifying players, and worst on the team for three-point percentage. He was also first in points, assists and free throw percentage. Some great stats from Sharife this year as the leader of the team, but there are still areas where he could improve, mainly his three-point shooting and limiting turnovers.
Along with that, is the fact that Sharife may have more of an opportunity next year to play better and have more success, with 5-star forward Jabari Smith and 4-star guard Trey Alexander have committed to Auburn. Along with Alexander possibly looking to fill the hole left by Auburn transfer Justin Powell. The new talent added to the current talent on the team makes Auburn prime for a good run next year, after this “rebuild year.”
However, when looking at draft boards Sharife is projected in the top 10, usually between picks 7 and 10. So, with that in mind, why would Sharife come back when he is already projected top 10? Why would Bruce let him come back at that rate?
Many people will point to the famous story of Bruce persuading Isaac to forego another year at Auburn to declare for the draft because of his stock. However, I will wager that this year is very different. Auburn this year were nowhere near position to be playing in the Tournament, with last year’s team being 25-6 and ranked, a sure-fire lock for March. Isaac last year was projected anywhere from a top-3 pick to a top-5 pick, with Okoro eventually being drafted fifth by the Cleveland Cavaliers. So not too much room to move up if Isaac stayed for another year of college. Okoro also declared three days after March Madness was officially cancelled due to COVID, which may have also been a factor for his decision to forego another year. Why stay another year to raise your stock when you are already top five, potentially top three and play a season that may not happen or may be drastically different?
Sharife played his first season in a COVID ravaged season, missed the first eight games due to a NCAA probe and missed a chance at the tournament, so why would he not come back to raise his stock and have a chance at playing for a ring?
Overall, while Sharife has good stock right now for a potential jump to the NBA, he could drastically raise that stock next year by improving and leading his team to a postseason berth. With an improved Auburn team hopefully coming next year, why wouldn't he want to join that team for at least one last ride? I can speculate all day about what Sharife is thinking and what he will do, but at the end of the day it is his decision to make and I hope as a fanbase, Auburn fans will respect his decision no matter what.