Leading the Women of Troy
Basketball Hall of Famer Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who as a player helped lead USC to a pair of NCAA championships before winning an Olympic gold medal and four WNBA titles and then as a head coach resurrected three collegiate programs, was named head coach of the USC women’s basketball program, Trojan athletic director Pat Haden announced today (April 11).
“In Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, we have a proven winning coach who happens to be a USC basketball icon,” Haden said. “She was a part of the best basketball ever played here at USC, and she has seen success at so many levels of the game. As a coach she has turned around several programs. We believe she can lead USC back to successful women’s basketball, and we welcome her back to the USC campus.”
“If you were to ask me what my dream job was at any point in my coaching career, I would always have said my dream is to come back and lead the USC women’s basketball team,” Cooper-Dyke said. “I’m literally living the dream coming back to California and being named the new women’s basketball coach at USC.
“I want to thank Pat Haden and Donna Heinel and the entire Trojan Family for giving me this awesome opportunity. I don’t take it lightly. I feel like the different programs I’ve been a part of, from Prairie View A&M to UNC Wilmington to Texas Southern, have prepared me in many ways for the Pac-12 and USC. We’ve been successful at these programs. I can’t promise it will happen in a year like it did at these other programs, but I promise we will put forth our best effort as a staff to create a program that embraces the work ethic and mentality that will help us be successful.
“I also want to thank my coaching staffs and all the players I’ve coached. The players are always in the forefront of everything we do. It’s about helping these women grow and succeed in this world. As a coach, you can’t be successful without your players believing in you and performing to the best of their abilities. I wouldn’t be here without them.
“I’m very excited to coach every one of these USC players. I’m excited about the talent we have. I’m excited to teach and learn and motivate and really see them blossom into the players they can truly become. It’s a very talented group of women and I’m excited to be their new head coach.”
Cooper-Dyke, 49, has an eight-year collegiate head coaching record of 150-106 (.586), with seven post-season appearances and three league Coach of the Year honors.
She takes over a tradition-rich USC program that is among the nation’s elite. The Women of Troy have appeared in four Final Fours, winning twice, and produced such icons as Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie, the McGee twins, Tina Thompson and Cooper herself.
The 2013 USC squad was 11-20 overall and finished seventh in the Pac-12 with a 7-11 record under fourth-year head coach Michael Cooper (no relation). The Women of Troy last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2006 and were a WNIT finalist in 2011.
Cooper-Dyke was the head coach at Texas Southern in 2013 and guided the Lady Tigers–who were 5-26 the previous year–to their first-ever Southwestern Athletic Conference regular season championship with a 16-2 league mark (14 more league wins than in 2012). TSU advanced to the SWAC Tournament’s semifinals (as the tourney’s No. 1 seed, a first in program history) and earned its first-ever WNIT berth. At 20-12 overall, the Lady Tigers set school records for season victories (20) and consecutive wins (15).
She spent the previous two seasons (2011-12) as the head coach at UNC Wilmington. Inheriting a Seahawks team that was 12-19 the prior season (and just 6-12 in league play), her debut 2011 squad notched a school record for victories with a 24-9 overall mark (14-4 for second place in the Colonial Athletic Association), won 11 consecutive home games, got to the semifinals of the CAA Tournament and advanced to the second round of the WNIT in the school’s first-ever post-season appearance. She was the 2011 CAA Coach of the Year. Then in 2012, UNCW posted its second consecutive 20-win season (20-13) for the first time in school history, made it to the CAA tourney semis again after going 11-7 in the league and was a WNIT participant.
Cooper-Dyke began her college coaching career at Prairie View A&M, a program that had never had a winning season. She posted an 86-72 record with four post-season appearances during her five-year (2006-10) tenure there. After going 7-21 overall (6-12 in the SWAC) in 2006, she guided her second team in 2007 to the program’s first winning campaign (19-14), its first SWAC regular season title (at 14-4), its first SWAC Tournament crown and its first NCAA Tournament berth, as she was named SWAC Coach of the Year. The Lady Panthers repeated as SWAC regular season champs in 2008 with a 15-3 league mark and finished at 22-12 with a trip to the WNIT. Prairie View won its third consecutive SWAC regular season title in 2009 (going 17-1), and also won the SWAC tourney title and played in the NCAA Tournament as she again was the SWAC Coach of the Year while her team had a 23-11 record. The Lady Panthers were 15-14 in 2010 (12-6 in for second in league play) and were a WNIT participant.
Cooper-Dyke was able to have such success at Prairie View, like Texas Southern a historically black college that faces financial and recruiting hurdles, despite having to endure NCAA sanctions her last 2 years that included scholarship reductions and probation. The program was penalized for violations that occurred during Cooper-Dykes’ first season, but the NCAA said those violations were the result of the school’s failure to educate her about NCAA rules.
One of the world’s greatest and most decorated women’s basketball players, Cooper-Dyke was the 1981 L.A. City Player of the Year at Locke High in Los Angeles while averaging 31 points a game and leading her team to the California State 4A championship. She also was on Locke’s track team.
She then starred as a 5-10 guard for USC’s 1983 and 1984 NCAA Championship teams. A four-time letterwinner (1982-84, 86), as a senior in 1986 she was named an All-Conference first teamer and made the NCAA All-Tournament team as the Women of Troy made it to the NCAA Final. She averaged 12.9 points, 3.1 assists and 2.1 steals during her career as USC won 114 of 129 games. She currently ranks ninth on USC’s all-time scoring list (1,559 points), eighth in assists (381) and third in steals (256).
Cooper-Dyke began her pro career in Europe for Spain’s Samoa Betera (1986-87) and Italy’s Parma (1987-94) and Alcamo (1994-96) teams. She led the league in scoring once (36.7 average) with Samoa Betera and eight times in Italy. She was the MVP of the European All-Star team in 1987 and was named to the All-Star team of the Italian leagues in 1996 and 1997.
During that time, Cooper-Dyke collected five medals while representing the United States in international play. She won a gold medal at the 1987 Pan American Games, a gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, golds at the 1986 and 1990 FIBA World Championships and a bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
She returned to the United States in 1997 at the age of 34 to play with the Houston Comets of the newly-formed WNBA. She led the Comets to a record four consecutive WNBA championships (1997-2000), being named WNBA Finals MVP each time. She was the league’s MVP in 1997 and 1998 and was a two-time WNBA All-Star (1999-2000) before retiring in 2000. She led the league in scoring three consecutive years. She became the first WNBA player to hit the 500-, 1,000-, 2,000- and 2,500-point career scoring plateaus. She scored at least 30 points 16 times and had a 92-game double figure scoring streak.
She moved into the coaching ranks in 2001 as the head coach of the Phoenix Mercury and spent that season and the first half of the 2002 season there, going 19-23 overall, before returning to the Comets’ 2003 playing roster until an early injury curtailed her season and led to her retirement. She earned her third WNBA All-Star honor in 2003 and, at 40, was the oldest player to play in a WNBA game at that time. She finished as Houston’s all-time leader in scoring (2,601 points), free throw percentage (.871) and assists (602). She averaged 21.2 points per game in her career.
She was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 (the first WNBA player enshrined). She was the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 1998 Sportswoman of the Year. In 2011, she was voted by fans as one of the Top 15 players in WNBA history.
She was born on April 14, 1963, in Chicago, Ill., but grew up in Los Angeles as one of eight children. She speaks Italian fluently. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Prairie View A&M.
She and her husband, Brian Dyke, who is a sports agent, have 10-year-old twins, son, Brian Jr., and daughter, Cyan.
In 2000, Cooper-Dyke published her autobiography, “She Got Game: My Personal Odyssey,” chronicling her childhood, her basketball career and her mother’s battle with breast cancer.