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November 27, 2010
Facially, Jack Cooley looks a lot like former Irish All-American Luke Harangody.
He's starting to play like him, too.
Make no mistake, Cooley won't be making a run at Harangody's No. 2 spot on the all-time Notre Dame scoring and rebounding lists. His contributions come in short bursts, and his game will never be as complete as Harangody's.
But after beginning to offer valuable minutes during the stretch-run performance that got the Irish into the NCAA tournament without Harangody last year, Cooley's game has expanded.
He has played a significant role in Notre Dame's 6-0 start to the 2010-11 season.
"I've always said he has an underrated feel for the game," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "Maybe he doesn't move as smooth as other guys, but he's smooth around the basket. If he rebounds and defends, he's going to be a key for us."
Brey's comments came after Cooley's career-high 13 points in 14 minutes against Maine less than a week ago. Cooley made 6-of-7 shots from the field and grabbed five rebounds in Notre Dame's 25-point victory over the Black Bears.
The solid performance came on the heels of three other steady efforts to open Cooley's sophomore campaign:
"My conditioning is considerably better than last year," said Cooley, offering an explanation for the improvements in his game. "I've been working with our strength coach for that. I did get a little winded at the end (of the Maine game), but I'm getting a lot quicker."
Cooley actually made a move late last season when his look-alike, Harangody, went down with a leg injury against St. John's on Feb. 14. Cooley hadn't played a second in 10 of the 15 previous games.
But he logged 19 minutes, grabbing five rebounds, in a tough double-overtime loss to Louisville, and then made solid contributions on the backboards - 15 rebounds in four games - as the Irish embarked on a six-game winning streak.
Cooley opened the 2010-11 season as a solid member of a eight-man rotation and has taken his game up a notch.
In Notre Dame's come-from-behind victory over Georgia Thanksgiving night at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Cooley scored five of his seven points in the first half when the Irish struggled to put the ball in the basket. He finished with seven points, four rebounds (three offensive) and two assists in 18 minutes of action.
Despite ranking seventh on the team in minutes per game, he is second to Tyrone Nash in offensive rebounds with 14. He's also second on the team in blocked shots with five. Cooley is shooting 62.5 percent from the field (15-of-24) and 66.7 percent from the free-throw line (8-of-12) with a 6.3 scoring average to go with 4.3 rebounds per game.
"It's not that we have any plays for him offensively," Brey said. "But he's a bear to guard when he's in a blue shirt for practice, and that's carried over to the game. Ask Nash and (Carleton) Scott. They hate dealing with him every day. And he can make free throws."
Cooley, who followed the lead of Harangody on the practice floor last year, is listening to Nash, speaking of Irish players who have lifted their game.
"Ty gets on me when I don't make post moves and post up," Cooley said. "He helps so much. Right from the beginning of the game, he'll make strong moves and get fouled. So they have to double him, and he's one of the best passing big guys in the game. He'll always find me."
Brey is intrigued with a lineup that includes the bruising Nash and Cooley at the same time.
"I thought it was interesting for us to evaluate Nash and him playing together," Brey said. "When we're playing against some flying guys on our rim, Big East-like guys, we need some more strength to rebound and anchor us in the back."
Cooley certainly provides an anchor.
"The thing Coach puts me in for is my hustle," Cooley said. "You can't really practice the hustle stuff, other than just going out and playing. Coach wants me to play hard, rebound and play defense."