Men's Basketball: Cooley embraces cloning, mirrors Harangody
Published: Friday, March 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 00:03
Jack Cooley has heard it all.
“There’s the classic ‘Notre Dame has a cloning facility.’ ’Jack Cooley’s been at Notre Dame for like eight years.’ They just make jokes like that all the time. Those are pretty funny,” the Irish senior forward said.
Comparisons abound when you play the same position on the same team as your look alike. As a freshman, Cooley was a reserve big man backing up Irish great Luke Harangody. They just so happened to look like brothers.
“It’s still on Twitter all the time,” Cooley said. “I didn’t really mind it. I realized I looked just like him and, even when I was being recruited I would go to some of their games, people would be like ‘Are you his younger brother?’ I’m like ‘No, I’m actually going to go here.’”
But the mirror images didn’t translate to the court. Cooley played sparingly as a freshman (5.3 minutes per game) while Harangody, a three-time all-American, averaged over 20 points per game during his senior season.
“It was harder for me to see the comparisons just because of the discrepancy in skill level my freshman year, with him just being so unbelievably better than me,” Cooley said. “I never really saw as much of the comparison as people from the outside really.”
But the comparison was there to be made, at least physically. As a freshman, Cooley was listed at 6-foot-9, 244 pounds. That year Harangody, a senior, measured 6-foot-8, 246 pounds. Though he still didn’t see the comparisons because of the on-the-court incongruities, Cooley welcomed being constantly linked to Harangody, who was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Draft.
Since then, Harangody has played in 70 NBA games in three seasons and currently plays for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League.
“His name is hanging from the rafters,” Cooley said. “If you’re going to be compared to someone, it better be someone who was a Big East Player of the Year, who’s in the NBA and got paid millions of dollars to play basketball and is in the Ring of Honor. That’s a pretty good comparison.”
In-game heroics aside, Cooley insisted Harangody was even better in practice — at his expense.
“You would get a taste of it during the game, but during practice he would just do some stuff that was unbelievable,” Cooley said. “He would just score some points that you would just have no idea. It was some of the most demoralizing times of my life when I had to guard him. But you just learn to keep your head up and keep playing hard. Good things will always happen as long as you try hard.”
From the start of his career at Notre Dame, intensity and hard work have been hallmarks of Cooley’s bruising game. Though he lauded Harangody as an incredible player, Cooley said he brings more intensity than his former teammate.
“You know I’m going to give that to me,” he said. “I think Luke was clearly intense. But I know I don’t really want anyone to out-intensify me. … I think my intensity is up there a little more. I never let another person out-intensify me. Ever.”
Not on the court and certainly not in video games, where Cooley actually sees a connection to his constant on-court intensity and hustle.
“I think it really does [have an impact],” Cooley said. “Because there are times in video games, there are some matches that get pretty intense. To be able to handle that, I mean sometimes there would be pressure. I would enter into tournaments and there would be a lot of pressure there.
“I get really mad [playing video games]. I have a sick headset and I talk a lot of trash. It’s pretty funny because people will be watching and they’ll be like ‘Dude, just calm down. It’s just a game.’ And I’m like ‘No. It’s definitely not just a game. I’m not going to lose this.’”
But Cooley gave up video games during his junior season so he could do a different type of competing, forcing himself to channel that competitive energy from console to court.
“[I quit video games] around the time when I got sick and I missed the Maryland game [last season],” Cooley said. “And after that I was like ‘I need to focus on basketball and school and really nothing else.’ And that’s what I did and that made everything become so much easier and it really simplified everything.”
Cooley simplified things to the point where the on-court comparison to Harangody became legitimate. As a junior, Cooley led the Irish in scoring and rebounding and was named the Big East’s Most Improved Player. The Glenview, Ill., native also earned a spot on the all-Big East second team.
This season, Cooley took the next step when he was named to the all-league first team March 10 after leading the league in double-doubles. His performance has been a far cry from his first two seasons, when he averaged five and 10 minutes per game, respectively.
“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 improvement 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.”
Cooley has gone from the rookie who played just six minutes in Notre Dame’s opening-round loss to Old Dominion in the 2010 NCAA tournament to the senior leader who has never missed the NCAA tournament.
But in each of the past three seasons, the Irish have failed to reach the Sweet 16. The Irish lost in the first round last year after falling in the second round in 2011. In that 2011 tournament, Notre Dame was a No. 2 seed led by all-Big East first-teamer Ben Hansbrough, who happens to be the only person that Cooley said can “out-intensify” him.
Cooley will try to prolong his career in the tournament and enjoy one last run with his teammates, who he said he will miss most.
“I’m going to miss a heck of a lot about this place,” he said. “The camaraderie of our teammates in our locker room was one of the main reasons why I came here and that will be missed probably the most.”
As he plays his last games in an Irish uniform, Cooley has an even stronger connection with former teammates Hansbrough and Harangody. The three are the only Irish players in Cooley’s four years at Notre Dame to earn all-Big East first team honors. Cooley said he is pleased to have joined Harangody, in particular, as a first-teamer considering he was best known as a freshman for being Harangody’s look-alike.
“I’m happy with putting up a respectable effort of making first-team Big East, which is what he did, and then doing all those things that were kind of similar, having similar success.” Cooley said.
But that similar success seemed like a long shot when Cooley was merely the brunt of clone jokes. Now, Cooley is on par with Harangody as first team all-league.
“Just seeing my teammates who’ve gotten it before — Luke and Ben — just seeing what level those guys are on and then to be nominated at the same level is incredible to see how far I’ve come from watching them play to being the person out on the courts,” he said. “It’s insane.”
Almost as insane as cloning.
Contact Mike Monaco at firstname.lastname@example.org