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Cooley develops into All-Big East selection

Andrew Owens | Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Jack Cooley lives life in a ho-hum way, adhering to rhythm and routine rather than spontaneity, so the way he found out he received Big East second team honors Sunday should surprise no one.

“I’m … disappointed in my team, because I found out from my best friend … because I don’t check Twitter or Facebook,” the junior forward said. “I woke up at 12:15 [p.m.] and didn’t have any texts, but my best friend texted me ‘congrats’ [at 12:30] and I was embarrassed and asked, ‘For what?'”

Now in his third year at Notre Dame, Cooley has transformed himself from a Luke Harangody look-alike into one of the best players in what is typically regarded as the nation’s top conference.

“I’m really proud of Jack,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “He certainly was probably a candidate for first team, but I’m kind of happy he isn’t first team. He still needs to have things to shoot for. But from where he came from in the fall to being a second-team guy, I’m very, very proud of him and I know he’s proud of himself, and he’s earned it.”

During the regular season, Cooley averaged 12.5 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game, numbers that reached 14.6 and 10.2, respectively, in Big East play. What is most remarkable, however, is that he was even in a position to hang with the big boys of the Big East.

Last summer, Cooley was diagnosed with a condition that limits his blood from processing and delivering oxygen, raising doubts about his endurance and ability to play extended minutes. He answered that challenge by starting in 28 of 30 games in which he played and registered 32.7 minutes per game in conference play. He even recorded a season-high 44 minutes in the double overtime victory over Louisville on Jan. 7.

When his condition was announced in November and Notre Dame suffered several embarrassing non-conference defeats, it was borderline unfathomable that Cooley could wind up on the Big East’s second team and be named the conference’s Most Improved Player.

“The only person who called that I’d get Big East team was [former Irish guard] Ben Hansbrough, who actually Facebook-messaged me before the season and told me that I should be really disappointed if I don’t get at least Big East [second] team and then [it] happens … I’m extremely excited and happy,” Cooley said. “To think at some parts early in the season that this would happen now, it’s just incredible.”

Cooley said he is disappointed in himself for not earning Big East first team honors, but that it will drive him to improve for his senior campaign.

“I definitely use it [as motivation],” he said. “I wouldn’t consider myself better than anyone on the first team. The choices that were made to pick that team were great and I think they all were justified. So I just use it more as motivation than disappointment.”

For now, though, Cooley is less concerned with next season than with the task at hand: helping Notre Dame overcome its typical struggles in Madison Square Garden.

“[It’s] a little bit [of a psychological hump], but this year we’ve done a lot of things that have never been done before, so we have that edge,” he said. “It’s a little different because it is the Garden. It’s a pretty big deal. You just have to get through it and play as a team and remember it’s just another arena and just go out there and play hard.”

Cooley said he regards the tournament as a proverbial reset button, with each squad starting on a level playing field.

“The season was good, but now it’s over,” he said. “Everyone gets going in the postseason, everyone has something to prove and everyone has to go out there and reprove we’re a good team and just start over.”

 

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu