When you point out that Kahleah Copper played in the McDonald’s All-American game 10 years ago, no one is more shocked about this than she is. The Philly native has lived a full basketball life since then, culminating with her Chicago Sky team winning the WNBA championship last year and Copper taking home Finals MVP honors. I had the chance to chat with Kahleah about her memories playing in the game, revisited the journey leading to the WNBA title and of course, got some sneaker talk in there as well.
As she reflects on her hoops journey, there is definitely a hint of fulfillment in her voice. I asked her about her range of emotions from when she was nominated for the game, to when the official rosters were announced and she said there were definitely some jitters. Looking back, Kahleah says she didn’t think she was “that good” in high school so to receive one of the most prestigious honors that can be bestowed upon a player at that level, was truly a blessing. Looking at her voyage since then, it’s not much of a stretch to see how much Copper has progressed in the last decade. She said that being in a constant state of improvement in regards to her game has allowed her to maximize her potential up to this point, and there’s undoubtedly more in store. Having spent four years at Rutgers playing under legendary Coach C. Vivian Stringer (she also left as the 3rd leading scorer in school history) and playing under Mike Thibault in Washington during her rookie season in the WNBA, I’m sure Kahleah soaked up a whole lot of game in that span. She was relegated to mainly a reserve role for her first few years in the league, but when her chance came, she took full advantage. She played her first year as a starter in the bubble and responded by leading the Sky in scoring. Last year, she added her first All-Star nod to the resumé and consummated the season with the chip and Finals MVP honors.
Last season’s success was somewhat of a full circle moment for Kahleah, for when she was selected as a McDonald’s All-American, the game had taken place in Chicago. Now 10 years later, she reached another basketball milestone in the same city. When I asked her about what it meant to bring the title home, in the same city where she was introduced to the nation in 2012, she said she couldn’t have been happier. The love the city showed them during their run, fueled them all the way to the promised land. And on a personal note, Kahleah was able to establish herself as the best player on the grandest stage in women’s basketball. While she was not oblivious to the fact that Finals MVP was a likely eventuality, all she was worried about was raising that hardware. If Kahleah replicated her play in the previous rounds in the Finals, then she was a definite lock-in. She says she was able to maintain that level of excellence by focusing on doing whatever the team needed to win. And for her, that meant relentlessly attacking the basket and being an absolute menace on the defensive end. Obviously, she was able to live up to that and helped deliver the Sky their first championship in franchise history.
While Kahleah is a few years removed from her McDAAG experience, she is still very connected to the game and is aware of its’ history. This year will mark the 45th go-round for the event and the 20th time that girls will be participating. Since its’ inception, the McDonald’s All-American Game has been used to recognize the top high-school players in the country and Kahleah considers herself lucky to be amongst those names. She remembers being inspired watching Candace Parker beating the guys in the dunk contest in ’04, and then having front row seats to watch Breanna Stewart try her hand in 2012. Those are the historic moments that define the experience of the McDonald’s All-American Game and Copper knows with each passing year, more memories will be created that will inspire the next generation of hoopers. This year’s game will have added significance as the event will be returning after a two year hiatus due to COVID-19. I’m sure everyone involved is excited to get back to business as usual. It just doesn’t hit the same to simply send out a list and not have the festivities.
Currently Kahleah is gearing up for another championship run, but with the official McDonald’s roster announcement alas here, she is definitely tapped in with what’s going on with the game. She is overjoyed for the young players who will get the opportunity to live out their dreams. Being named a McDonald’s All-American is undoubtedly on the proverbial vision board of every hooper, from the time they pick up a basketball. Her time participating in the event was something she wouldn’t trade for anything. From the bonds that are formed and getting to know players you would have otherwise not had any contact with – the benefits of the week-long extravaganza stretch far beyond what happens between the lines. She recalls talking with Brittney Sykes about their future plans, hooping in college, and then the WNBA. Lo and behold, their plans came into fruition. Kahleah can only hope that the young women who will be selected for this prestigious honor will be able to look back, 10 years from now and have the chance to say that they fulfilled the dreams they had, like she is able to do today. We wish all of the participants the best of luck and hope that this is only the beginning of what will be many more honors to come.