Michael Cooper

Los Angeles Lakers legend Michael Cooper asks basketball camp participants in Pablo at Salish Kootenai College about things they're going to make good decisions about in the future.

PABLO — Ten minutes remained on the clock before Los Angeles Lakers legend Michael Cooper's basketball camp was over and he had one last question to ask each of the participants. 

"What are you going to make good decisions about?" Cooper asked all 25-30 grade schoolers in attendance. 

That question was on their minds for the duration of the two-day camp at Salish Kootenai College, as decision making is one of Cooper's five big points to drive home with his campers. 

"Coop's five D's — at one point in time that was my report card — but the five D's are determination, dedication, desire, discipline and decision making," Cooper told 406mtsports.com of the most important thing for kids to take away from his basketball camp. "Those five words can help you become a pretty good player, but they can help you be a spectacular citizen in our society. The bottom line is basketball, sports, are just a small window of who they are.

"We're asking them to be student-athletes because one day that ball's going to stop bouncing or whatever they're doing athletically is going to stop. What they're left with is with themselves. If they can feel good about themselves and being productive in the classroom, they can still make it in this world."

The message resonates with the kids, as it comes from the 1987 NBA Defensive Player of the Year and five-time NBA champion. Cooper is also the only person who can claim titles as either a player or a coach in the NBA, WNBA and NBA D-League (now called the G-League). 

Cooper has been around the block with basketball camps, as the first camp he hosted was in 1983 in Polson, thanks to meeting Marty Marengo. Cooper had never been to Montana before then, but now it's a place he considers home. 

"Monty had set it up to where we probably had about 130 kids," Cooper said. "I kept saying to myself, 'What am I going to say to them?' And then when I got up here, a thought came to my mind and said, 'What would you want to be said to you?' And that's how I started my camps. That's how I started teaching and coaching."

Since then, Cooper has hosted handfuls of basketball camps around the country, as well as on the Flathead, Blackfeet and Rocky Boy's Indian Reservations. 

"Coming up here and giving back to the community has been very important to me," Cooper said.

That importance of community and giving back is why Cooper runs the camps the way he does.

Instead of introducing himself at the beginning and signing autographs at the end, he runs every single drill — with some help — and stays on the court for the duration of camp. 

"I love teaching. I love being around kids. Kids keep me young," Cooper, 62, said. "I think they're a little bit more willing to listen to me than some camp director who probably does a good job, but has never been at the level that the kids want to aspire to become and that's an NBA professional player. As much as they can be around me, they get to touch it, see it, ask questions about it, smell it sometimes because the sweat stinks."

Some of that help came from a trio of Lady Griz basketball players — freshman Abby Anderson, sophomore McKenzie Johnston and sophomore Emma Stockholm. 

For the few girls participating in the co-ed camp, having the Lady Griz players there meant a lot. 

"When they see them on TV or go to a game, they can identify with them," Cooper said of the girls. "'Hey that was my coach. She taught me this.'"

"That's why I try to use the local coaches or players around — former players, players that have played 10 years ago, but the kids still identify with them. But it definitely helps when you have current players because now they can actually see what's going on."

Amie Just covers Griz football and Missoula-area preps. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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