Kahleah Copper is a little crazy.
At least, that’s how the three-time All-Star described herself when asked to explain her drive during a Team USA media session.
“Sometimes I get in the car, set up my GPS and see the time,” Copper said. “It’ll say 6:21, and I’m gonna try and get there at 6:18. It’s been that way since I was a kid, just wanting to be better.”
Copper went on to describe a recent photoshoot with a young basketball star who asked her what motivates her after all that she has accomplished. Copper responded: “There’s so much more out there.”
At 29, Copper is a three-time All-Star, WNBA champion, Finals MVP and FIBA World Cup gold medalist. Her overseas accolades require another page on her resume.
Still, Copper is running a race toward greatness, and her self-defined finish line continues to change. At one point in her life, she might have thought all the aforementioned accolades would satisfy her. But Copper appears to realize there always will be something worth pursuing.
Right now, her wish list includes making an All-WNBA team, being named Defensive Player of the Year and winning an Olympic gold medal.
“It never ends for me,” Copper said.
Copper can recall being wide-eyed, searching for a way to leave an impression during her first camp with U.S. basketball. The formula for success — she realized — is finding the right balance between not doing too much while also playing with the confidence that’s earned every time you’re named to a roster.
There was a noticeable turning point in Copper’s career, according to U.S. basketball coach Cheryl Reeve, that came when she was named 2021 WNBA Finals MVP. The player who stepped on the floor after that season lacked hesitation and had no shortage of confidence.
“That seemed to catapult her into a different mentality about how she felt about herself and what she was capable of doing,” Reeve said.
To be named Finals MVP on a roster that included future Hall of Famers such as Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley undoubtedly launched Copper into a new stratosphere. But according to Sabrina Allen — Copper’s first coach — it wasn’t that award that turned her into “Philly Kah.” It was the preparation ahead of the 2020 WNBA season that redefined her as a player, allowing her to step into that persona and, subsequently, a role in the U.S. player pool.
“We practiced on the strip of pavement in the back of the house,” Allen said.
“We practiced on so many ball-handling drills, conditioning and ran miles and miles on this street out here called ‘the Boulevard.’ ”
Copper and Allen turned Roosevelt Boulevard into their conditioning route. When Copper wasn’t running miles with Allen, she was biking them. Her training became a family affair. Everyone from Copper’s nieces to her mother, Leticia, and older sister, Letia, joined her on rides.
This week in Atlanta, she fell down a rabbit hole, revisiting old photos and videos of that spring she spent preparing for the opportunities that were ahead.
“I knew I was ready for that 2020 season,” Copper said. “We go into it and that’s when everybody said I had the breakout season. From there, it was about being consistent.”
Copper already earned one gold medal with Team USA, playing on Reeve’s World Cup team that beat China 83-61 to win its 11th title. She averaged 9.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists in six games before a hip injury suffered in the quarterfinal sidelined her for the semifinal and final.
The Olympic roster for the 2024 Summer Games in Paris will be even tougher to crack, a fact she knows well.
She was a casualty of Team USA’s final roster cuts ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. That team won its seventh consecutive gold medal.
Copper was selected to participate in Team USA’s November camp, which concludes Sunday with a game against Duke. Between now and June, when the Olympic roster likely will be announced, Copper will have opportunities to make the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament roster in February and another training-camp roster during the Final Four.
An opportunity is all she has ever really needed.
“I know I have the blueprint on what it takes for me to have success at the level I want,” Copper said. “It’s about continuing to build on that and hound on it times 10.”