tampabay.com

CCC's Cooper out for season

Potential high draft prospect injures his arm after police say he punched a car window.

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published March 24, 2006


CLEARWATER - Riley Cooper, a Florida football recruit and potential first-round baseball draft pick, recently suffered a season-ending injury and was charged with criminal mischief when, police say, he put his fist through a car window.

The Clearwater Central Catholic two-sport star suffered a deep cut on his right (throwing) arm, according to his father, but no damage to his hand.

Larry Cooper said his son's arm is in a splint, but the injury was not career-threatening, and family adviser Todd Wiseman said Riley Cooper had some plastic surgery but "doctors have predicted a 100 percent recovery."

Cooper, 18, was scheduled to appear in court March 28 on a criminal mischief charge, a misdemeanor. But Larry Cooper said "everything's been resolved. It's no big deal."

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said he received a request Wednesday from the victim's attorney, Jim Stearns, asking that the charges be dropped.

"I guess they were paid for whatever damages and the people don't want to pursue it," McCabe said, adding he has forwarded the request to the court, which likely will comply.

The injury to Cooper will keep him off the baseball field for two months and ends his playing days at CCC.

CCC baseball coach Todd Vaughan, football coach Mike Jalazo and athletic director Bob Cotter all declined comment.

Cooper's latest attempt to play a full high school season - he missed last year with an injury and was limited his sophomore season due to grades - ended about 12:10 a.m. on March 11 on Buttonwood Lane near Largo.

According to police reports, Cooper admitted to throwing a punch through the passenger side window of the BMW of Safety Harbor's Jasim Alidina.

Alidina said in the report he was leaving a party and after making a U-turn was confronted by a group of people who asked him if he knew someone.

After he said no, an arm burst through the passenger side window, leaving shards of glass all over the seat. Alidina drove away and called the Sheriff's Office. He told Deputy Craig Beroshok he didn't see who threw the punch, but one of his friends did.

Beroshok, who noticed blood in the car, started calling hospitals and found Cooper at Morton Plant.

Larry Cooper says much of the deputy's report is wrong. According to him, Alidina was making a right turn and didn't notice Cooper and some friends walking along his blind spot, almost running them over.

"He was walking down the street, the car swerved right in front of Riley," Larry Cooper said. "The window was down about 3 inches, and Riley's arm went inside the window."

Larry Cooper said no punch was thrown, and that his son's response was just a "reaction to being startled." Wiseman said it was a "defensive move."

Noora Alidina, the mother of Jasim, said her son did nothing wrong but declined further comment.

The injury casts doubt on Cooper's position in June's major-league draft. The outfielder already was considered a risky pick because of his scholarship and stated desire to play in college.

But Larry Cooper said he's been told by some scouts his son could be a top five pick, and that 20-30 scouts have showed up almost daily to watch batting practice.

At 6 feet 4, 200 pounds, Riley Cooper is considered a rare breed, a blend of size and significant speed (60 yards in less than 6.3 seconds) while possessing a strong throwing arm and power. After a huge summer playing baseball last year, Baseball America ranked him the 11th-best high school player in the country. He currently is No. 30.

Wiseman, who works as an adviser for The Show, a Palm Harbor-based sports management agency, said Cooper remains a first-round draft pick despite the injury.

Larry Cooper said his son will report to Gainesville in June to begin preparing for next football season as a receiver and play baseball "guaranteed without exception" for the Gators next spring.

He dismissed the baseball draft as no big deal.

"His education and going to college was always the biggest thing for him, and come June 15 he'll be moving in and working out and getting ready for that."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.