Former Notre Dame guard and 2011 Big East player of the year Ben Hansbrough was one of likely a select few who saw a special season surfacing for Irish junior power forward Jack Cooley.
Back before the Irish season took so many twists and turns -- for better and for worse -- Hansbrough told Cooley in a Facebook message that the Glenview, Ill., native "should be really disappointed" if his name was not on one of the All-Big East squads.
On Sunday, the first-year starter who enjoyed a career year across the board earned second team All-Big East recognition.
"I'm extremely excited and happy," said Cooley who finished the regular season with 376 points and 276 rebounds after a total of 145 points and 143 rebounds over his first two years. "To think from certain parts of the season that this would happen now is incredible."
Cooley joked that he was a bit disappointed in his teammates, the same group he praised for helping him earn the honor. The all-league teams were released Sunday around 11 a.m., but it was a quarter past noon when Cooley finally awoke and checked his phone for any messages his teammates might have left him regarding the Big East selections. There were none.
"I thought," he said, "it was a normal day."
Then he received a text from his best friend offering his congratulations. Sweet, Cooley thought. For what?
Well, for starters, for posting numbers that maybe nobody, not even Hansbrough, figured were possible in preseason. In his first season as a main guy, Cooley tied for the team lead in scoring average (12.5 ppg.) and led the Irish in rebounding (9.2 rpg.), field-goal percentage (62.1 percent) and blocked shots (47) in 28.4 minutes per game. He also attempted a team-high 133 free throws and grabbed an Irish best 119 offensive rebounds, 90 more than the next closest teammate.
Cooley often was at his best in Big East games. Over 18 league
contests, Cooley finished 13th in the conference for scoring (14.6
ppg), second in rebounds (10.2 rpg), first in field-goal percentage
(62.0 percent), fourth in blocks (1.72) and first in offensive
Only two players -- Cooley and West Virginia's Kevin Jones -- averaged
double-doubles for points and rebounds in conference play. Eleven of
Cooley's 12 double-doubles came in league games. With those numbers,
one could make a serious case that Cooley deserved to join Jones on
the first team (see box).
"I'm disappointed in myself, but looking at the first team, the people
on that first team are incredible," Cooley said. "I wouldn't consider
myself better than anyone on that first team."
Following Cooley's career-high 27 points with 17 rebounds in Friday's
win over Providence, Irish coach Mike Brey figured his big man had a
big shot to make it at least one Notre Dame player on the first team
all-league squad in each of the last seven seasons. On Sunday, Brey
insisted he was glad Cooley slid to the second group.
"He still needs to have things to shoot for," Brey said. "To come from
where he came from really in the fall to being a second team
all-league guy, I'm very proud of him.
"He's earned it."
Cooley is the third player in Irish league history to earn second-team
honors. He joins Troy Murphy (1999) and Chris Thomas (2004).
Grant good, too
The first time guard Jerian Grant played in a game this season for
Notre Dame after sitting out his first year, he looked every bit like
a rookie -- uncertain at times, timid to go and make a play in others.
Still, when Grant figured out how his game best fit in his first
season of college basketball, he was good. He would get even better.
As a result, Grant became the first Irish in five seasons to earn a
spot on the Big East all-rookie team.
"It was one of my personal goals coming into the season," said Grant,
who is a sophomore academically but still considered a freshman within
the Big East. "Just one of them that I accomplished."
Grant is the first Irish freshman recognized since teammates Luke
Harangody and Tory Jackson earned all-rookie spots in 2006-07. Like
Jackson and Harangody during their first seasons, Grant often played
with the swagger of an upperclassman.
"He's a fearless guy," Brey said.
Grant tied Cooley for the regular-season scoring lead (12.5 ppg.), led
the Irish in assists (153) and was second in minutes played (35.7 per
game). In league games, Grant was 25th in the conference for scoring
(12.3 ppg.), seventh in assists (5.33), seventh in free-throw
percentage (83.1 percent), seventh in minutes (37.78) and second in
assist/turnover ratio (2.59).
Grant led the Irish in scoring seven times, including a career-high 22
in mid-February against DePaul.
"I'm proud of him," said classmate and roommate Eric Atkins. "He had a
One that started slowly in his exhibition debut against St. Xavier
(Ill.) and then again the first time he played against a ranked team
in No. 7 Missouri. Grant had four points, five rebounds and three
assists in the exhibition game. He had six points, one rebound, two
assists and two turnovers in the 29-point loss to the Tigers.
Grant then offered 20 points, five rebounds and four assists the
following night against Georgia.
"The first game and then first game against a legit team in Missouri,
the speed and everything was new to me," he said. "Come the Georgia
game, I felt like we all got better and me personally, I got better.
"After that game, I figured out how to play."
Staff writer Tom Noie: