Coppenrath wins championship: Helps carry Spanish Club C.B. Murcia to LEB Gold championship and trip back to first division.

by April 23, 2011

While Marqus Blakely made headlines recently by signing with the Houston Rockets and becoming the first Vermont Catamount to make the NBA, the player who was supposed to have claimed that title, Taylor Coppenrath, continues to quietly carve out one of the most successful careers of any recent America East alumni in professional basketball. The success continued last week, as Coppenrath helped to lead his club, C.B. Murcia, to a championship.

On April 15, Coppenrath scored 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds in Murcia’s 112-111 overtime victory. The win clinched the regular season Spanish LEB Gold (also known as the “second division”) title. As is the case throughout Europe, the Spanish divisions are cyclical. The regular-season champion and playoff champion from the second division move up to the first division the following season and, conversely, the bottom two teams from the first division drop down. With the win, Murcia, which finished with a 30-4 record, clinched a spot in the Spanish ACB (first division), widely considered to be the best domestic league in the world outside of the NBA, next season.

Coppenrath graduated Vermont in 2005 as the greatest player in school history, the most dominant America East performer of the past decade, and one of the most decorated and greatest players ever to grace the AE. During his four years in Burlington, Coppenrath became only the second player in league history to win the conference Player of the Year award three times (2003, 2004, 2005), joining the late Reggie Lewis. Coppenrath lead the Catamounts to three straight NCAA appearances – the first three in program history – and a historic 59-56 overtime win over Syracuse in the 2005 NCAA Tournament. He was a three-time Associated Press All-American (honorable mention), a Second Team All-Conference selection as a freshman and a First Team selection the next three seasons, and a two-time winner of the Reggie Lewis Most Outstanding Player of the America East Championship. He was also a finalist for the Wooden and Naismith awards as a senior. Coppenrath’s 2,442 points rank third all time in the America East record books and he is one of only five America East players to score at least 2,000 points and pull down 800 or more rebounds.

After his college career ended, Coppenrath more than held his own at the Portsmouth pre-draft camp but went undrafted in 2005. He played in the summer league for the Celtics in 2005 and the Pacers in 2006 and had solid performances in both, but both times chose guaranteed money overseas instead of risking everything to pursue the NBA. A bad back injury greatly curtailed Coppenrath’s NBA dreams, but he has carved out a very good career for himself overseas, spending all six of his seasons as a pro playing at the highest levels of European ball. The former Catamount spent his first year out of college playing in the Greek first division and EuroLeague for AEK Athens, he spent a year in the top league in Italy, before settling in to Spain, where he has played each of the past four seasons in the LEB Gold.

“I really enjoy Spain as a country and especially every season has been in the southern part of Spain so the weather in the winter is mild as opposed to those harsh winters in Vermont,” said Coppenrath. “I think the money can be good anywhere but I have really enjoyed the teams I have played for and the style of life and those small comforts that I have here [in Spain] sometimes outweigh those really big contracts.”

With stops in the EuroLeague, Greek and Italian top divisions and the Spanish second division, Coppenrath has now played in four of the top five leagues in the world outside the NBA (the other being the ACB in Spain) and has carved out a niche for himself in the LEB Gold as a player who can carry a second division team into the first division, having previously achieved that feat with the club Alicante in 2009.

The regular-season winner of the LEB Gold does not participate in the post-season tournament (having already guaranteed their spot in the ACB) and Coppenrath will soon be returning home to the Green Mountain State to enjoy a break before heading back overseas, where he has all but guaranteed another lucrative contract as a hot commodity on the free agent market for next season. Nobody yet knows where Coppenrath will ply his trade next, but the former Vermont star has his eyes set on finishing what he started.

“I am hoping to stay with this team and play next season in the ACB, which has been a goal of mine,” said Coppenrath. “Outside of EuroLeague, it is probably the top league in Europe and maybe even top in the world except for [the] NBA.”