Drive, focus to improve pushes Hopkins’ Coffey to the top

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2013 - 7:55 AM

Her diverse basketball skills and burning desire to get better allowed the Hopkins senior to add layers to her game and attract national attention.

The expression on Nia Coffey’s face didn’t budge as coach Brian Cosgriff scolded her.

The Hopkins senior forward just nodded and began to write. Her eyes quickly returned to the TV on the wall, her hand still gripping the pen in anticipation of something worthy of more ink.

Distractions around her went unnoticed as she kept her focus on studying film of Section 6 championship opponent Minnetonka. The sunflower seeds on the table didn’t entice her, nor did a teammate’s occasional comment divert her. She was only interested in improving.

“Why did you stop?” Cosgriff said to Coffey, referring to the footage. “Post up. They can’t stop you if you post up.”

Six-foot-1, athletic and crafty, Coffey is used to hearing that from people, and used to proving they are right.

Her ability to jump, handle the ball and score near the basket and on the perimeter has made it nearly impossible for even Minnesota’s best to limit her. Her play made her the Star Tribune’s 2013 Metro Player of the Year.

The rest of the nation has taken notice, too. Coffey became only the fourth girls’ basketball player from Minnesota to be named a McDonald’s All-American. She’s also a Women’s Basketball Coaches All-American.

Cosgriff called Coffey the best Royal he’s coached. She moved into second place on Hopkins’ career scoring list this season with 1,422 points. She has 242 career steals, 206 blocks and 172 assists.

She is a humble star. She struggles to remember how many years she played varsity, settling on two. Her parents — father Richard Coffey played for the Gophers in the late 1980s — corrected her to four. If asked, though, she’ll tell you that she considers herself the best player in the state.

“At least I like to think about it like that,’’ she said. “I play hard and try to help my teammates get better. If you’re playing the game of basketball right, you have to have that mindset to do this.”

Coffey will join Braham star Rebekah Dahlman in the McDonald’s All-American game. While that might suggest rivals for the title of the state’s best, Coffey doesn’t concern herself with it. She’s just happy to be honored along with a talent such as Dahlman. Any time Coffey can talk about someone other than herself, she prefers it.

The selfless attitude was evident when Coffey learned she would play in the April 6 All-American game in Chicago. Cosgriff couldn’t keep a secret and delivered the news prematurely after one of Hopkins’ 28 victories. He was bubbling and so were Coffey’s teammates, while she just bobbed her head calmly and accepted the praise before attempting to return it.

“I didn’t think I heard him right,” Coffey said. “I was in shock a little bit.”

Especially from the few Coffey posters that were then hung in the halls of Hopkins High School.

“I think from the start, I never thought I’d be in this position today,” she said. “It’s cool to see how far I’ve come, but I’ve got a long way to go.”

That includes one final state tournament this week and then to Northwestern on a full scholarship.

Lifelong friend and teammate Mikaala Shackelford said Coffey always has been a special athlete. She was reminded of it late in the season when Coffey tried to dunk against Edina.

“I was just standing at half court in awe,” Shackelford said. “I think she was embarrassed she missed. But still hitting the rim is unbelievable.”

Said Cosgriff: “She’s taken her game to a level that not many people in these parts do.”

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