Stankovic, Cooper put reunion in coaching terms

February 09, 1996|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Kenny Cooper refers to his former player and assistant Mike Stankovic as a brother. Even with Cooper coaching in Tampa, Fla., and Stankovic making the calls for the Spirit, they still talk every day.

Tonight is a special reunion as Cooper and Stankovic put aside their 12-year friendship and go head-to-head as opposing coaches for the first time.

"It's going to be a tremendous emotional and spiritual battle," Cooper said. "We will both show up fired up and leave a piece of ourselves on the carpet afterward.

"I can't wait to play so we can kick the living daylights out of them."

So there's a touch of sibling rivalry. Cooper still has his sights on a playoff spot for his fledgling Terror, and says a win over the Spirit would give it league recognition.

But Cooper admits tonight is not just a normal regular-season game.

In April 1994, Cooper resigned as coach of the Spirit, and immediately backed Stankovic, his assistant, as his successor. Instead, the Spirit hired Dave MacWilliams.

Stankovic then distanced himself from the Spirit, until he was coaxed back into playing this season. When MacWilliams stepped down two weeks ago, the Spirit hired Stankovic in what Cooper called "the most logical move."

Now in his fourth game as a coach, Stankovic must face Cooper, whom he played under for 10 years with the Blast and Spirit, and assisted for two.

"I learned a whole lot helping him coach," said Stankovic, 39. "He has a great record behind him. But the most important thing is we have to play our game and our plan. That's my concern."

Spirit tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Terror

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7:35

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WASA (1330 AM)

Outlook: The Spirit (15-12) has won two of three under new coach Mike Stankovic, including a 14-4 triumph over the Canton Invaders on Tuesday. Besides the return of former coach Kenny Cooper, the Spirit has an added incentive. On Jan. 18, Tampa Bay shut out the Spirit in the first quarter and gave up just one score in the final period to post an 18-7 victory. The Terror has dropped two out of seven since that upset. Bojan Vuckovic leads Tampa in scoring with 88 points.

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