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February 25, 2013

Cleaning up the offensive glass

Watch Jack Cooley run up and down the basketball court. His feet splay out and his running gait indicates a slow, un-athletic 6-foot-10, 245-pound basketball player.

Don’t put any stock in it.

In fact, Cooley is one of the nation’s more athletic big men. He is a prolific offensive rebounder, and truth be told, he has great feet, uncommonly good hands, a relentless attitude, and an uncanny ability to get off the floor for a rebound faster than everyone else.

He may be the best rebounder in the country. He may be the best offensive rebounder in the country.

“I’ve never seen (such) a relentlessness,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey of Cooley, who is averaging 10.9 rebounds (sixth nationally) and 4.4 offensive rebounds (second) per game.

“One of your coaching themes with big guys is, ‘Don’t accept a blockout.’ A lot of guys accept blockouts. Most guys accept blockouts. Jack Cooley truly does not accept a blockout. He is relentless.”

Only South Alabama’s Augustine Rubit (4.5) has a better offensive rebounding average than Cooley’s 4.4.

“A lot of it is just foot speed, what time of the game it is, and how the ball is going to bounce,” said Cooley, who is second nationally in rebounds-per-40 minutes at 14.4.

“You’ve got to be smart to use your foot speed and move around guys. It’s also having other good offensive rebounders out there with me because they can’t box me out with two guys, which they’ve been doing. A lot of it is also luck.”

Since entering the starting lineup in 2011-12, luck has had little to do with Cooley’s success. He has had at least one offensive rebound in 56 out of 59 games. He’s had a remarkable 12 games (out of 28) this season in which he has had at least five offensive rebounds in a game, including nine against St. Joseph’s. He had seven offensive rebounds against Brown, and six versus Connecticut, Kentucky, Villanova, Seton Hall, South Florida and St. Francis (Pa.).

“It’s how he pursues the ball,” Brey said. “There was a play in the second half (against Pittsburgh) on offense in front of our bench in which a rebound was bouncing toward our bench toward the baseline. He was swimming through Pitt bodies to try and get there. That is Jack Cooley on either end of the floor.”

Brey said Cooley’s physical assets are deceiving.

“He can really move his feet and dance around people,” Brey said. “You add that with unbelievable strength of will. There’s a reason why he gets angles all the time to get his hands on the ball.

“One of the things that is the most underrated about him is his hands. His hands are great. I’ve seen him snatch the ball away from six-foot athletic guards in this league time and time again.”

Brey used to get on Cooley early in his Notre Dame career for the time he spent playing video games. Not anymore.

“I’ve had a good reaction time since I was little,” said Cooley, “probably from playing video games a lot. It’s good to be able to get a first step on a lot of these bigger guys.”

Whether the time spent playing video games has had a direct correlation to Cooley’s rebounding prowess is up for debate. But there’s little doubt that when it comes to cleaning up the glass, Cooley is among the best in the business.

“That’s why I think he has the utmost respect of his teammates,” Brey said. “Rebounding is physically demanding. Going after that thing all the time and the body contact that he takes over the course of 40 minutes and over the course of a season…I think he’s the best offensive rebounder in the country.”


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