The Hogan Prep locker room was still on Saturday. That’s what a pair of seniors remember about the moments before the Rams took the court for the Missouri Class 3 state championship game. Their nerves. Their anxiety.
In search of settling those emotions — and treating the state final like any other game — a Hogan Prep coach reached into a gym bag and did what he had done before every other tipoff this season.
He pulled out a No. 24 jersey.
The uniform once belonged to Roosevelt Cooper, a 2017 Hogan Prep graduate who was shot and killed in Kansas City last August, a day before he was set to leave for college. He was 18.
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“That had been our motivation,” senior Michael Gant said. "Playing for him."
Two hours after that locker room meeting, Cooper’s jersey returned to center court.
Hogan Prep won the Missouri Class 3 state title, then celebrated with a few players lifting the trophy and a few others lifting Cooper’s uniform top.
Hogan Prep had finished third in the state in 2017, Cooper’s senior season.
“It was a great moment because he told us last year when we lost that we’d be back, and he said he’d be in the front row cheering us on,” said senior Damien Daniels, the team’s leading scorer. “He predicted it all along. It was great to do it for him.”
Last fall, Hogan Prep dedicated its season to Cooper, who started for the 2017 group that finished third. As it broke a team huddle before every game, the players and coaches shouted “24” to remember him.
The emotion came full circle during Saturday’s celebration in Springfield.
“I was crying,” Gant said. “It was a lot to overcome. It was a very emotional moment.”
Cooper was one of the most popular players on the 2017 team, Daniels said. A day before he was killed, Cooper had been to Hogan Prep to say his goodbyes before leaving for college at Missouri State, making a point to speak with members of the football and basketball teams.
His former team started slow on Saturday — Hogan Prep trailed by eight in the opening quarter and six at halftime — but outscored Charleston 43-32 in the second half.
Daniels led the way with 20 points.
“It got me a little sentimental. I cried out there, too,” Daniels said. “The last time I saw (Cooper), he had been to the school saying his goodbyes because he was leaving for college the next day. It was heartbreaking when we found out he was gone. We did this for him.”