Cooper senior forward Talayiah Rich is preparing for the last playoff run of her long and winding five-year varsity career.
The Hawks carry a 14-game winning streak into the Class 4A, Section 6 playoffs. The fourth-seeded Hawks play a quarterfinal game against No. 5 seed Minneapolis Southwest on Wednesday night in the Cooper gym.
As an eighth-grader, Rich was a key reserve for Minneapolis North’s 2009 Class 3A state tournament runner-up team.
Rumors of the school’s closure led Rich and other talented eighth-graders to attend other schools. Rich and Chelsey McGee went to Cooper. Tyseanna Johnson and Allina Starr attended DeLaSalle.
All four were on the court Jan. 3 as Rich became the first boy or girl at Cooper to reach 1,000 career points and rebounds. She grabbed the milestone rebound in the DeLaSalle game.
Rich discussed her team’s mindset heading into the playoffs, going from North to Cooper and her decorated career with Star Tribune staff writer David La Vaque.
What do you like most about the way your team has played on this 14-game winning streak? What I feel is really working for us is that we are more determined this year than any other year. We set a goal after our loss to DeLaSalle to have no more losses. We have reached that goal, and we will try to continue reaching it in the playoffs.
Is there a game during your winning streak that really stands out? Most definitely. The first Irondale game [Jan. 25] I believe we were down by 17 points at halftime. We didn’t come in with our heads focused. But that game ended with my layup on an assist from Chelsey McGee, and we won by one point [64-63]. That was a nail-biter.
What have your teammates discussed about Cooper’s playoff goals? We know that this is not the regular season anymore. Teams are coming in not wanting to lose and go home. Everybody wants to get to Target Center. So we came to the conclusion that we need to play our game and play how we know we can play with no doubts in our minds.
What does it mean to you to be the first boy or girl at Cooper with 1,000 career points and rebounds? It’s pretty great. Actually, what that means to me is, I will work at every angle on the court. Scoring points isn’t only what I like to do. I’d rather rebound. I’d rather get assists. Some people love scoring; I love rebounding.
Have you talked to your former teammates about what a journey it has been since the North days? We always talk about the separation. I talked to [former North and current DeLaSalle girls’ basketball coach Faith Johnson Patterson] this season, and she said, ‘I’m just so proud of where you’re going.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m glad I made this move.’ Chelsey, and I wanted to branch out. Everybody around us felt like this was our best move. I couldn’t be happier.
What are your plans next season in terms of playing basketball in college? I have not made my plans, but I have one junior-college offer and another junior college showing a lot of interest. That will definitely be my next step.