(Guru's note -- with some editing for local reference -- back later with commentary)
LOS ANGELES — Michael Cooper will leave the Los Angeles Sparks after this season to coach Southern California’s women’s basketball team, athletic director Mike Garrett said Friday.
Newly hired assistant Ervin Monier, one of Dawn Staley's first assistants at Temple before moving to Rhode Island in a similar capacity, will oversee USC’s program until Cooper arrives. The Sparks begin play on June 6 and could play until Oct. 9 if they make the WNBA finals.
He replaces Mark Trakh, who resigned last month after five seasons.
Cooper becomes the second coach with WNBA ties to be hired to run a Pacific 10 women's program, following the recent hire of Paul Westhead to coach Oregon.
Westhead, a former St. Joseph's men's assistant and La Salle men's head coach in Philadelphia, as well as a former NBA Lakers coach, guided the Phoenix Mercury to the 2007 WNBA title.
“I’m looking forward to working in a collegiate atmosphere and all that comes with it,” Cooper said in a statement.
“But for the next few months, it’s important to understand that my focus and commitment will be with the Los Angeles Sparks and winning a championship. I’m excited about the Sparks’ upcoming season and I am totally devoted to them right now. After that, I’ll switch gears and be equally excited about USC.”
Cooper is entering his eighth season as the Sparks’ coach after starring with the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers during the team’s “Showtime” era of the 1980s.
The 53-year-old coach has a 183-85 record with the Sparks, including WNBA championships in 2001 and 2002. He was the league’s coach of the year in 2000, his first season.
Cooper spent three seasons as a special assistant to then-Lakers general manager Jerry West from 1994-97. He spent 2005 as an assistant with the Denver Nuggets, including a stint as interim coach.
He then coached the NBA Development League’s Albuquerque Thunderbirds from 2006-07, winning the league title in 2006.
Cooper played 12 years in the NBA with the Lakers and won five NBA championships. He was the league’s defensive player of the year in 1987.
He’ll be taking over a USC women’s program that went 17-15 last season and reached the Pac-10 Conference tournament final for the first time.
The program’s history includes NCAA championships in 1983 and ’84 and standout players Lisa Leslie, Cheryl Miller, Tina Thompson and Cynthia Cooper.