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December 22, 2012

ND's chairman of the boards

It’s a territorial thing with Jack Cooley.

When a shot by a teammate or the opposition is off target and bounces off the rim, it belongs to the 6-foot-9, 246-pound senior out of Glenview, Ill.

That’s his job, that’s who he is, that’s what he does.

Entering Friday night’s game against Niagara, Cooley stood 10th nationally in rebounding at 11.0 per game. He raised that mark to 11.3 when he snagged 15 rebounds in Notre Dame’s 89-67 victory over the Purple Eagles.

Particularly impressive is Cooley’s penchant for cleaning up on the offensive end. With his three offensive caroms Friday, he now has 63 for the season. That’s an average of 4.8 offensive rebounds per game, which is nearly a full rebound ahead of last year’s 3.9 average.

“I think he’s the best offensive rebounder in the country,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey last week.

Cooley has had at least five offensive rebounds in eight of Notre Dame’s 13 games, including nine in Notre Dame’s only loss of the season to St. Joseph’s, seven against Brown, and six each against Kentucky and St. Francis. He’s had as few as two offensive rebounds in a game just once.

“Just his will to go after that thing, and he’s very underrated as an athlete,” said Brey of Cooley’s rebounding prowess. “He’s quick off his feet. His reach is long. Certainly he has great strength and great hands, just super hands. When he gets near it, it’s usually his.”

It’s no coincidence that Cooley controls virtually everything he can reach. His work is done with a well-calculated plan in mind, and occasionally, some good fortune.

“It’s three things: foot speed, trying to predict where the ball is going, and luck,” Cooley said. “Luck is a big thing to do with offensive rebounding. I’ve been pretty fortunate so far in being able to (anticipate) where the ball is going to go and knowing how the ball comes off the rim from our shooters.”

Even at the end of a four-games-in-seven-days stretch with Christmas right around the corner, Cooley was his typical feisty self against Niagara.

“I think they thought I was being a little too physical for it being so close to Christmas,” joked Cooley of his discussion with the officials near the end of the first half as his battle with Niagara’s T.J. Cline became overly physical. “They just wanted to make sure everything stayed clean.”

Cooley also is a pretty sure thing when it comes to scoring around the basket. His 9-of-12 shooting Friday raised his season mark to a phenomenal .640 (73-of-114), which should propel him among the nation’s top 10 heading into the holidays.

“This team is smart enough to know that if something is going good, we ride it, and we kept throwing it into him,” Brey said. “There’s no insecurity and there’s no selfishness.”

Except, of course, when there’s a rebound to be grabbed. Cooley expects to get them all.

“I just need to keep up my intensity rebounding,” Cooley said. “Rebounding is the key for our team because we have such good scorers, especially now with Cam (Biedscheid) coming off the bench, and Garrick (Sherman) is a great low-post scorer.

“With our guards and two great subs that can score like that, I just need to focus on my role as a rebounder.”

Consider Cooley locked in.


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