On Wednesday, CollegeInsider.com announced that Tennessee State University men's basketball head coach John Cooper is a finalist for the inaugural John McLendon Award. The award is presented annually to the top collegiate head coach. The award encompasses Division I, Division II, Division III, NAIA and JUCO.
Cooper is a finalist for three other National Coach of the Year awards, which includes the Hugh Durham, Ben Jobe and the Jim Phelan awards.
A trailblazer and one of the true pioneers of the game, McLendon became the first African American coach to win an integrated national championship. Tennessee State A&I (now TSU) went on to win the NAIA Division I Men's Tournament in 1957, 1958 and 1959 making him the first coach in history to win three consecutive championships at the collegiate level.
In 1962 he became the first African American head coach in a major professional league (ABL) with the Cleveland Pipers. In 1966 he became the first African American head coach of predominantly-white university, when he took over the Cleveland State program. He led the team to their best record in school history.
In 1969, McLendon was hired by the Denver Rockets and became the first African American head coach in the American Basketball Association. After a brief stint with the Rockets, McLendon ended his 25-year professional coaching career with a winning percentage of .760 and a lifetime career average of 523 victories and 165 losses.
In just three seasons at Tennessee State, Cooper has resurrected a TSU program that had suffered through 16 consecutive losing seasons. The Tigers went 9-23 in Cooper's first season and completed a 14-16 mark in 2010-11.
This season, the Tigers notched a 20-12 record - the first winning season since 1995-96. TSU's 59-52 win over Morehead State in semifinals of the OVC Tournament ensured the Tigers first 20-win campaign in 32 years.
There were plenty of notable firsts for Cooper. His squad was the first ever to knock off an SEC opponent (64-63 at South Carolina) and the first since the NCAA Division I era to defeat a top-10 program (72-68 at No. 7/9 Murray State). TSU also played in its' first postseason tournament (CIT) since 1993-94.
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