NEW ORLEANS – The University of New Orleans Athletic department is heartbroken to announce the passing of Privateer Hall of Famer Wayne Cooper on Monday due to complications from kidney disease at the age of 65.

Artis Wayne Cooper was born on November 16, 1956 and grew up in Milan, Ga. “Coop” as he would eventually be called attended Telfair High School in McRae, Ga. Due to the distance between his high school and his home, Wayne played just over a season of high school basketball.

UNO associate coach Don Smith had been sent to the Peach State to scout a junior college game and happened to see Cooper practicing before the game. “He was a tall, skinny kid, who could really shoot” Smith noted, and decided to follow him home to gauge his interest in being a Privateer.

The gamble worked out, as Cooper’s relentless work ethic made him one of the best Privateer big men in school history. After a year of learning the game as a freshman, Cooper started every game as a sophomore during the 1975-1976 season making 50.4% of his shots from the floor, making 72.3% of his free throws, and leading the Privateers in rebounds at 9.4 per game.


The gears really started spinning for Coop his junior and senior seasons when he was twice named an All-Sun Belt Selection, and the Sun Belt Player of the Year after his senior season where he shot .535 from the floor – good for 18.1 points per game, in addition to pulling down 12.7 rebounds per game.  

Known for his hard work both on the court and in the classroom, Cooper’s scoring and rebounding averages improved each year he was at UNO. He went from 2.1 points per game as a freshman, to 12.1 points per game as a sophomore, to 13.2 points per game as a junior, and finally 18.1 points per game as a senior. Rebounding jumps were similar going from 3.1 boards per game as a freshman, to 9.4 as a sophomore, 10.1 as a junior, to 12.7 his senior season.


He finished his time at UNO playing in 98 games between 1974 and 1978, averaging 12.3 points per game, and 9.4 rebounds per game with a shooting percentage of 49.6% and a free throw percentage of 74.2%. The Privateers went 80-31 (.721) during the big man’s time on campus and won the 1979 Sun Belt Tournament Championship.

Cooper ranks in the top-three all-time at UNO with 44 double-doubles (2nd), 920 career rebounds (3rd), and 1984. His 1,209 career points rank 15th all-time. Wayne also holds the Privateer record for the most consecutive games with double-digit rebounding totals (13), and the most consecutive games with a double-double (11) – both set during his senior season.

Following his tenure on the Lakefront, Cooper spent 14 seasons in the NBA after being drafted by the Golden State Warriors during the second round of the 1978 NBA Draft. His best season in the NBA came with the Denver Nuggets in 1984-1985. Cooper averaged 12.1 points per game and 7.9 rebounds that season for a 52-win Denver team that reached the Western Conference finals. Wayne left Denver – as their all-time leading shot blocker – and returned to the Portland Trailblazers for the 1989-1990 season, where he remained a key player off the bench as Portland made a pair of runs to the NBA finals and one to the Western Conference finals during his final three seasons as an NBA player.

Following his on-court career, Cooper served as Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Sacramento Kings from 1996 to 2013 and was an integral part of the brain trust that build the late 1990s to early 2000s Kings dynasty which featured 8 playoff appearances, and a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2002. Despite all his success, Wayne remained a friend to all, even the shyest media intern.

Cooper was selected in the inaugural class of the University of New Orleans Athletics Hall of Fame in 1988, the Louisiana Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1992, and the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation Hall of Fame in 2000 and was also voted the No. 2 basketball player in school history by a panel of New Orleans basketball experts prior to the 2019-2020 season.

The department would like to send its thoughts and prayers to his wife Denise, their three daughters, and the rest of Wayne’s extended family. Funeral arrangements will be announced in due time. His family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the National Kidney Foundation of GA. or the Emory Healthcare Foundation.

THOUGHTS ON WAYNE COOPER

TIM DUNCAN (Vice President for Athletics and Recreation)
 As a student of the game of basketball, I remember Wayne Cooper as a player. He was a solid veteran that you could count on to do his role every time out on the floor. When I started here (UNO) and found out that he played here – it was a tremendous honor for me. I thought ‘I’m working at an institution that produced a man the quality of Wayne Cooper.’ It was my great pleasure to visit him, and his wife Denise in their home in Atlanta a few years ago. It was a chance not just to speak with him as a fellow Privateer, but to speak with such a cultured and respected gentleman who had a great career in the NBA as both a player and front office executive. I try to take some of his thoughts about leadership and incorporate them every day. I’m really glad to have gotten a chance to meet him – I will miss him, Privateer Nation will miss him, and basketball as a whole will miss Wayne Cooper.”

MARK SLESSINGER (Head Basketball Coach)
“Wayne Cooper is one of our all-time greats on and off the floor.  I am always grateful for how he treated me with open arms from the time I arrived at UNO.  He always took time to visit with me on the phone and in person.  He was so proud of his wife and children and always took the time to inquire about my family.  Wayne’s career in basketball speaks of his work ethic, toughness, intelligence, and selflessness.   He excelled as a student-athlete and had a great career in the NBA as a player, coach, and executive.  Wayne was a gentleman who treated people with respect and kindness that was a great example for our student-athletes.  He was a great teammate and friend.”

RON MAESTRI (Longtime UNO baseball Coach / Athletic Director)
“Wayne Cooper was a great player and even better human being. He was well-liked by everybody and just had a great personal feeling toward everybody. He was just a wonderful person and my sympathy goes out to Wayne and his family.”
 

TERRY GILL (Men’s Basketball Player 1971-1974)
“It was ironic that Wayne was drafted by the Golden State Warriors as he was a true warrior.  He came to play every day in practice and in games.  I was a graduate assistant coach in 1975 when Wayne arrived on campus.  I worked each day with the big men, and he struggled early, but never quit asking for help to improve.  That work ethic took him to a great career at UNO and in the NBA.  There will be many tributes to Wayne for his playing ability and accomplishments, but he was an even better person and friend.”

WILL PENEGUY (Former Times-Picayune Sports Writer / UNO Athletic Administrator)
“I think Wayne’s career was a reflection of who he was as a person – he had one Division I scholarship offer – he went from nobody knowing who he was to being a really good college basketball player as a junior and senior and ended up having a solid 14-year NBA career as a player. Ervin Johnson eventually came along and became the second Wayne Cooper.”

SOCIAL MEDIA
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{Courtesy: release from UNO}