Rejecting college coaches’ offers puts a lot of pressure on high school athletes, especially when their father is a coach at the university.
But Science Hill senior basketball player Shy Copney got sound advice from her father, East Tennessee State assistant Damon Johnson, and she decided to follow her heart when she signed with Middle Tennessee State on Wednesday.
Johnson told her it was her four years, not his or her mother’s, and she had to do what she wanted. She wants to mold herself in his image — he played at Science Hill, Tennessee and in Europe for a decade — but break out on her own.
“It made it really hard, because I’ve always wanted to play for my dad,” Copney said. “But at the same time I still wanted to get out and do things on my own. … I want to follow in his footsteps one day, and I also want to play after college if I have a chance.”
The 5-foot-10 Copney has attended teams camps at MTSU and played in two state tournaments there. Oddly enough, suffering a knee injury on MTSU’s court early in the fourth quarter of last season’s state semifinal victory probably clinched her decision.
MTSU’s team doctor tended to her with compassion, even giving her a Lifesaver the following day when the Copney-less Lady ’Toppers lost to Riverdale in the championship game.
“When I hurt my knee, they were the ones that got a doctor there for me that night,” Copney said. “And after that it was just like, I mean, they showed that they really had interest in me. … I felt like they really cared for me.”
MTSU is currently ranked No. 27 in the country. Coach Rick Insall’s teams have been to six NCAA tournaments and produced three WNBA draft picks in seven seasons.
“He’s got that winning attitude,” Copney said. “He just wants you to get better. … He just has that fiery attitude. …
“That was one of the main reasons I went there. They get to the tournament, they have chances to win (in the NCAA tournament). … I liked it before, but after the injury it really just made me love it.”
Science Hill coach Darrell Barnwell said Copney immediately responded positively to her torn ACL. She implored teammates in the championship game, and her passion was evident as she propped herself on her crutches under the basket during pregame drills.
“The thing I hated the most about the whole situation was the fact that she didn’t get the opportunity … to participate in the state championship game as a player,” Barnwell said. “But she took it all in stride. She was there trying to coach as much as she could. Keisha (Gregory) stepped into that role in the championship game, and she was over there from the bench trying to help Keisha as much as she could. … She changed a role, but never missed a beat. …
“It was a testament to how well she played in a game and three-fourths of a game that she was still named to the all-state tournament team. They saw how much she meant to our team.”
The 5-foot-10 Copney’s versatility is a scarce commodity. She averaged 12.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals for a deep team that was rarely challenged, and shot 36 percent from 3-point range. She’s scored in excess of 1,200 points.
“Shy’s our best all-around player, meaning she can play about any position we need her to,” Barnwell said. “I mean, when she was a freshman and sophomore she played in the post a lot for us. Last year, we moved her out to the perimeter as Gabby (Lyon) developed. …
“If we need her to post up she can. If we need her on the perimeter she handles the ball really well and is a good defender. In college, she’s gonna be more of a wing type player, and her shot has really improved over the last couple of years.”
Barnwell said Copney turned a negative into a positive by working hard on her shot during her period of limited mobility during rehab.
“Watching her shoot now, she looks like she’s even more fluid with her motion and her release,” Barnwell said. “That’s one thing — not that being injured’s ever a good thing — but she’s been able to at least work on her shooting. I think she’s got a chance to be a heck of a Division I player.
“Year in and year out, they’ve been in and out of the Top 25. That’s huge for us to have a player from our program to able to go and commit and be able to play at a program of that caliber.”
Copney said she fell in love with Murfreesboro “little by little” and touring the campus on her official visit helped seal the deal.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “it just came down to where I wanted to be and if I was happy with the decision.”