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Men’s Basketball: Cooley and Grant earn all-league honors

Mike Monaco | Monday, March 11, 2013

A year ago, Irish senior forward Jack Cooley narrowly missed out on earning a spot on the all-Big East first team. Cooley ended up on the second team, while then-sophomore guard Jerian Grant copped all-Rookie team honors.

This season, both players have taken the next step.

On Sunday, Cooley was named to all-conference first team and Grant made the second team.

Cooley led the Irish in scoring and rebounding, with 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9 tri-captain also led the conference with 19 double-doubles and was the only Big East player to average double figures in both points and rebounds.

“It’s a huge honor to be recognized as one of top half-dozen players in this league – it’s such a great league with such good players,” Cooley said Sunday. “To realize you’ve been declared one of the better players in the league is just huge, especially after last year when I was so close, to get it this year was just big.”

Last year Cooley missed out on the first team to six players who are now in the professional ranks, including 2012 NBA Draft picks Jeremy Lamb, Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder and Kris Joseph. 

This year Cooley impressed the league’s head coaches, who vote for the teams, enough to garner first-team recognition.

“Every coach comes up to me after every game and tells me they appreciate how hard I play,” Cooley said. “It means a lot to just have it come true and this award. It means so much.”

Cooley, a member of the class of 2009, was ranked by ESPN as the 33rd-best power forward recruit in the nation. During his freshman year, Cooley played a total of 21 minutes and averaged just 5.3 minutes and one point per game. As a sophomore, Cooley played 10 minutes per contest and upped his scoring to 3.7 per game.

But Cooley exploded last year as a junior, leading the Irish in scoring and rebounding.

“I’m really proud of this guy because, as I’ve said, I just think it’s an unbelievable story in college basketball given where he was as a freshman and even as a sophomore,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “The jump he’s made in the last two years is great. He’s been focused. He’s been a willing student. Maybe more than any guy who’s made first team all-league, he may be more proud of it because it’s really coming out of left field given how far he’s come.”

Grant, meanwhile, made the All-Rookie team last season after redshirting during his freshman campaign. This year the 6-foot-5, 202-pound guard was right behind Cooley in scoring, at 13.4 points per game, and second on the squad in assists with 5.7 per contest.

The Bowie, Md., native said ascending to the all-conference second team was the next step in the process.

“It means a lot, it’s something special, something that I’ve never done before,” Grant said. “Last year I was on the rookie team so it’s a step forward.”

He’s officially listed as a junior, but Grant’s relative inexperience at the collegiate level made the recognition that much sweeter, the guard said.

“It’s just my second year of really playing college basketball, I have to remind myself of that sometimes,” Grant said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself, but just to know I made second team means a lot.”

Brey said he was proud of Grant’s growth in year two on the floor.

“I’m very proud of Jerian. I think it shows the respect the coaches in the league have for Jerian,” Brey said. “Jerian has methodically kind of earned respect in this league so both those guys it’s great.”

The Irish left South Bend on Sunday to head to New York for the Big East tournament. The Irish will play the winner of DePaul-Rutgers, who square off Tuesday, on Wednesday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu