Kayla Cooper has taken the Dallas Mavericks’ Ballkid program to a whole new level.
While being an aficionado of time management, Kayla explained that her job as a Mavs Ballkid played a major role in her receiving a basketball scholarship at the University of Oklahoma.
Currently a senior on the Plano East High School basketball team, Kayla has been a part of the Mavs Ballkid program since 2017 – when she was in the eighth grade. The lessons learned from the program – from either the Mavs’ summer camps or from being a part of the GEM (Girls Empowered by Mavericks) program – have been integral in Kayla’s life.
“It played such a big role for me, especially with time management and leadership,” Kayla said. “For the time management part, it really helped with school and basketball to be able to manage another activity. It explained how to balance school and the Dallas Mavericks as well as basketball.
“And for the leadership part, there’s so many people each year that came and wanted to be a Ballkid, and with being a veteran I had to step up and learn how to be a leader and show the younger kids what the Ballkids do. So, it was great and it was a really good experience. I think the leadership part will really help, especially going to OU.”
Ben Hunt, the director of the Mavs Academy, implemented Character Building Talks with the Ballkids during halftime of the Mavs’ games. He also has a Speaker Series, which involves prominent figures in the community coming on board to discuss matters of life with the Ballkids.
Kayla soaked up the information and utilizes it in her everyday life. Kayla, in fact, is described by Hunt as a go-getter who treasures life’s precious moments.
“Kayla joined us in the eighth grade with the Ballkid program and you could tell right away that she’s very respectful, is a great listener and is always ready to learn,” Hunt said. “I think what was most impressive was she asked a lot of questions when we had our halftime Character Building Talks.
“When he had special guests in for our Speaker Series she was always engaged and always asking questions to better herself, and that was off the court. You could tell she was getting a lot out of those talks and those special guests. And of course, she was doing all she could to continue to get better on the court, which was very impressive also.”
Kayla’s mother, Ursula Cooper, is fond of the Character Building Talks and Speaker Series, which are headed up by Kelli Robinson (senior coordinator of the Mavs Academy) and Hunt.
”Coach Ben or coach Kelli would bring in speakers who talked to them about being professional, about greeting people,” Ursula said. “That’s the biggest thing that I like about it is they teach them life skills during halftime, and I definitely appreciate that.
“It’s not saying that parents, we don’t do that. But to have an outside influencer to enforce kind of what a parent is trying to teach their kid is definitely helpful.”
Hunt was impressed with how Kayla took to the GEM program, which, according to its mission statement, aims to engage, inspire and empower young females using physical activity as a backdrop for their continued development and success.
“That’s a program that was launched in March of this year,” Hunt said. “Obviously, Kayla was extremely instrumental with her leadership during our workshops early on.
“Even before, during the planning period before the GEM program was launched, we called all the Ballkids to assist and help us, and she was a big part of that.”
Kayla credited Hunt and Robinson for putting her in position to receive the scholarship from OU, which she plans to sign on Nov. 10 – the national fall signing day.
“Once I met Ben, he’s a very good person, he’s very influential and very positive,” Kayla said. “He means a lot to me because without him I most definitely wouldn’t be the person who I am today. He has taught me lots of valuable lessons, especially during our halftime talks.
“I appreciate everything he’s done for me, as well as Coach Kelli. She is an amazing person. We started this girl’s (GEM) program and it’s really helped to have her lead and be by our sides so that we can promote more girls sports. She’s also very helpful and mean so much to me, and I’m so thankful for both of them.”
On the court, Kayla was the District 9-6A Newcomer of the Year in 2019, and was second-team all-district two years ago and first-team all-district last season. She also was first-team All-Region last season after Plano East advanced to the regional tournament, and has been a starter on the Plano East varsity since her freshman season.
In addition to her work on the basketball court, Kayla was on the National Junior Honor Society at Otto Middle School in 2017. She also, in 2018, was part of the President’s Education Awards Program, which recognizes students for outstanding academic educational excellence.
Elsewhere, Kayla was named to the District 9-6A Academic All-District squads in 2019 and 2020, and to the District 6-6A Academic All-District team this past season. Last year she additionally was selected for membership in the Plano East High School Chapter of the National Honor Society.
In adding to her extraordinary multi-tasking skills, volunteer work has also been a staple for Kayla as she helped sort food at Minnie’s Food Pantry and the North Texas Food Bank, helped organize and distribute toys at the Assistance Center of Collin County to over 500 families during the holiday season, and also volunteered at the Promise House.
“I first got involved in volunteering when I was in middle school for this organization at my school,” Kayla said. “Ever since then, to be honest, I’ve loved volunteering for many places like Minnie’s Food Pantry and the Assistance Center of Collin County.
“Those places to me hold a special place in my heart because there are so many people out there that need help, and I truly do love helping people. So, volunteering does play a big role and I feel like the more you volunteer, the more people you help and the more people who you can reach that needs help.”
A 5-9 point guard, Kayla verbally committed to OU on June 2 after choosing the Sooners over Texas A&M and Tulane.
“It was my main decision because of the coaching staff and the type of play they have,” she said. “(OU associate head coach and recruiting coordinator) Coach Amy (Wright) has definitely played a big role in this process. She stuck by my side ever since I was a younger kid playing basketball, so I have entrusted her.
“With their style of play — they love to do transition and I love to get up and down the court when I play — I feel like that will be an asset to me and I know those OU coaches will push me very hard to become a very good person each and every day on and off the court.”
Hunt has no doubt Kayla will have a successful senior season at Plano East and an even more prolific college career.
“Kayla’s tough,” Hunt said. “She’s very fundamentally sound, very skilled and a great leader. She’s did a tremendous job at Plano East and she will continue doing that her senior year and into college.
“She was always looking for ways to get better, even during a busy summer season that she had when she traveled a lot. She’s always been at our camps to continue to get better, but also to show that support as well, which we appreciate.”
And all of that support by Kayla started with her entry into the Mavs’ Ballkid program.
“Thank you to the Ballkid program and everything that they’ve done for me,” she said. “They’ve really played a big role in my life — especially with the leadership role — and I do truly appreciate the opportunity they’ve given to me over the years.”