Former Cousino basketball player, Popkey, has earned role with NCAA Division I program

By: Mark Vest | Warren Weekly | Published October 29, 2014

 Former Warren Cousino basketball player Elena Popkey is pictured during an Oakland University basketball game last season. Popkey has been named to the Madness 2014-2015 Preseason All-Horizon League Women’s Basketball second team.

Former Warren Cousino basketball player Elena Popkey is pictured during an Oakland University basketball game last season. Popkey has been named to the Madness 2014-2015 Preseason All-Horizon League Women’s Basketball second team.

Photo courtesy of Oakland University athletics

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While it may not always feel like it at the time it is happening, sometimes setbacks can lead to opportunity.

When Elena Popkey was a basketball player at Warren Cousino, she sustained an injury that caused her to miss some of her junior season with the Patriots and her last season of travel basketball. While the injury was bad enough in and of itself, perhaps the worse part was that it occurred during her junior season, which Popkey said “was the big year for recruiting.”

According to Popkey, some schools that had been looking at her “dropped off the map.” However, one of the programs that did want her services was Oakland University.

Popkey is now in her junior season with the Golden Grizzlies, and she expressed gratitude for the way things turned out.

“Now, being here, I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” she said. “I thank God for it because I really don’t know where I would be now if it weren’t for that injury. His plan is bigger and better than mine. Even though at the time it kept me down, I ended up here. Couldn’t thank God more for that.”

Popkey’s achievements at Cousino included being a four-year varsity letter-winner; breaking the girls basketball record for points, assists and steals; being part of two district championship teams and one MAC White co-championship team; being named the 2012 Macomb County Player of the Year; and earning a spot in a BCAM and Macomb County All-Star game.

“Me and Elena actually came in around the same year. My first year was her sophomore year,” Cousino coach Mike Lee said. “That first year, we won the districts for the first time in almost like 20 years. And shortly after, the following year, we won a conference title for the first time in 30-some years.

“She sort of laid the groundwork. The girls that still are coming in the program know about Elena, even though they never played with Elena. The hard work, the dedication, trying to excel in the classroom and be a good person in the community. She wants to see this program keep going up. I’d like to think there’s a lot of factors, but the No. 1 factor I would think is people like her that have laid the foundation for others to come.”

Since arriving at Oakland, Popkey has been selected to the Academic All-Horizon League Team, contributed an average of 13.8 points and 6.2 rebounds her sophomore season, and earned All-Summit League honorable mention honors, along with being named to the league All-Newcomer Team for her play as a freshman.

After her freshman season, Oakland joined the Horizon League.

Her play has also garnered enough recognition to be included on the Madness 2014-15 Preseason All-Horizon League Women’s Basketball Second Team. Being named to that team doesn’t seem to be a small matter to Popkey.

“It’s very humbling,” said Popkey, who acknowledged support she has received from her family, as well as coaches she has had along the way, at Oakland, and prior to her playing days with the Golden Grizzlies. “Just pushes me to continue to work towards what’s best for my team. It’s not about the individual award; it’s about winning and growing as a family, growing in our lives. It’s a blessing. It pushes me harder; there’s room to grow.”

While her preseason accolade is a nice individual accomplishment, Popkey has her sights set on playing on a conference championship team. She cited winning a Horizon League title as one of her remaining goals at Oakland, and has given some thought as to what it would mean to be a part of that kind of achievement.

“I think a league championship would be pretty great,” Popkey said. “(We) have the pieces to make that happen. It’d be pretty amazing. It would be a dream come true, really. Having that league championship, cutting down the nets — something that you’ll always remember. From high school, I remember us winning championships, and that’s what brought us close. Having that here at the collegiate level would just be a dream come true.”

For as lofty of an achievement as it was to make it onto an NCAA Division I roster, Popkey isn’t looking to call it quits after her collegiate playing days are over, as she hasn’t ruled out any opportunities that may come her way to play professionally.

“That would be another dream come true,” she said. “As a little girl, (I) wanted to play in college and play as long as I possibly can. Being able to utilize everything that I’ve learned in high school and college, and go on and make those dreams come true would be pretty radical.”

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