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Men’s Basketball

John Mooney in top-10 running for Karl Malone Award

| Friday, February 7, 2020

Notre Dame senior forward John Mooney is one of 10 current candidates for the 2020 Karl Malone Award. Now in its sixth year, the award, named after NBA Hall of Famer and two-time MVP Karl Malone, is given annually to the top power forward in college basketball.

In his second year as a starter for the Irish (14-8, 5-6), Mooney has recorded 18 double-doubles, second in the country to William and Mary senior center Nathan Knight’s 19; Knight and the Tribe (16-8, 8-3 CAA) have played three more games than the Irish to date. Mooney is also second in the nation in rebounds per game at 13.0 behind Quinnipiac redshirt junior forward Kevin Marfo, who is averaging 13.6 boards per game.

Mooney burst onto the national scene in his junior season, providing a bright spot for a Notre Dame team that limped through conference play to record a 3-15 conference record and a 14-19 overall record. Despite the rest of the team’s struggles, Mooney averaged a double-double with marks of 14.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.

His production in the 2018-19 season earned Mooney a spot on the All-ACC Third Team and allowed him to finish second in votes for the ACC Most Improved Player Award, losing to Louisville guard Jordan Nwora.

This season, Mooney has elevated his play not just in his rebounding, but in his scoring as well, averaging 16.5 points on the year. He has brought his career total to 39 double-doubles, 38 of which have come in the past two seasons. That makes him the national leader since the start of the 2018-19 season.

Anthony Reo | The Observer
Irish senior forward John Mooney shoots a contested layup during Notre Dame’s 80-72 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion.

Now, Mooney has become one of a select group of Irish players to have scored 1,000 career points and grabbed 800 career rebounds. In addition, he has garnered praise from some of the competition the Irish have faced this season, including Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner.

“I think Mooney’s excellent. I’m a big fan of Mooney. Too bad Billy Donovan didn’t stay in college, cause [Mooney]’s just been a Georgia Tech killer,” Pastner said in reference to Mooney’s decommitment from Florida when Donovan left the Gators for a job with the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I just think he’s really, really good. And when you rebound like he rebounds, I think there’s a place for him in professional basketball, because that stat translates. And I think he’s a really good basketball player and I just can’t wait for him to graduate and move on. Because he’s really, really good.”

Mooney also received praise from Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.

“I would like to say that — I don’t get too much involved in stuff — but if John Mooney is not one of the top-25 players in the country, then I don’t know anything about college basketball. Literally nothing,” Boeheim said after the Orange (13-9, 6-5 ACC) defeated Notre Dame 84-82 at Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 22. “It’s absolutely a joke that he’s not one of the top 25. … What Mooney’s done is absolutely remarkable. He’s a great player and it’s amazing that he’s not recognized.”

Now, Mooney’s prowess has at least resulted in him receiving national attention for the Malone Award. But as a power forward, Mooney has contributed to the Irish in areas other than scoring and rebounding.

The 6-foot-9 245-pounder out of Orlando, Florida, is better than 37% shooting from the three-point line for his career. His ability to stretch the court as well as play inside has allowed Notre Dame to play more small ball to improve their offensive output from last season.

Perhaps most impressively, Mooney is the only player in Division I to average at least 16 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and one steal. He is the only player to boast that stat line since Oklahoma stand-out and former No. 1 overall NBA pick Blake Griffin averaged 22.7 points, 14.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals in the 2008-09 season.

Past winners of the Karl Malone Award include Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell (2015), Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton (2018) and Duke’s Zion Williamson (2019). Others on the watchlist this season include Michigan State junior Xavier Tillman (10 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Maryland sophomore Jalen Smith (11.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Mississippi State sophomore Reggie Perry (17.1 ppg, 10 rpg).

Irish graduate student guard Rex Pflueger complimented Mooney for the way he has taken everything in stride.

“The thing that we love about Mooney is that he’s just so humble,” Pflueger said. “He’s all about [the] team first. Individual accolades are amazing — he deserves all of them. But he’s a team-first guy. He’s one of our leaders. And I’ve just loved to see his progression as he’s just grown as not only a basketball player but as a human being.”

Despite Boeheim’s comments, after Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 80-72 on Feb. 1, Mooney affirmed Pflueger’s claims and said he feels no slight based on the lack of national attention.

“It’s cool to see Coach Boeheim say those words,” Mooney said, “[But] I really don’t care about that stuff. I truly don’t. All I want to do is just help my team win games. And … we’re on a good little winning streak. So, that’s obviously where my mind’s at, and just continue to do what we’re doing right now.”

The Malone Award candidates will be trimmed to a list of five finalists in March with the award ceremony held April 10.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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