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March 11, 2013

Cooley 1st team, Grant 2nd team

From start to finish, few in the history of the league have come from as far back in the pack as Jack Cooley to land on the all-Big East first team.

Cooley, who had not averaged more than 10 minutes or three points per game during his first two seasons with the Irish, surged in 2011-12 to become the Big East’s most improved player. Now, he’s one of six chosen for the first unit.

“It’s huge to be recognized as one of the top half-dozen players in this league because it’s such a great league with such good players,” said Cooley, who joined Georgetown’s Otto Porter, Jr., Louisville’s Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, and Providence’s Bryce Cotton on the first team.

“You’ve been declared one of the better players in the league. It’s just huge, especially after last year when I was so close.”

Cooley averaged 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last season in Big East play to land on the second unit. He scored at a 12.4 clip this season with a 10.1 rebounding average (second only to Dieng’s 10.8). Cooley was fourth in league field-goal percentage (.540) and led the conference in offensive rebounds per game at 3.7.

“Probably the rebounding and the hustle,” said Cooley when asked what he thought he did to impress the league’s head coaches to choose him for the first team. “Every coach comes up to me after every game and tells me they appreciate how hard I play, and it really means a lot to have it come true.”

For Cooley, he’s had plenty of inspiration to reach this point.

“Just seeing my teammates that have gotten it before like Luke (Harangody) and Ben (Hansbrough),” said Cooley of his motivation to excel. “The level those guys are on and to be nominated to that level, it’s just incredible to see how far I’ve come from watching them play to being that person on the court. It’s insane.”

Irish head coach Mike Brey is proud of Cooley’s accomplishments as well as the fact that Notre Dame has placed a player on the all-Big East first team seven of the last 10 seasons. No other program in the Big East can make that claim.

“I’m really proud of this guy because as I’ve said, I think it’s an unbelievable story in college basketball, given where he was as a freshman and even as a sophomore,” Brey said. “The jump 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 that’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.”

Grant, who was named to the league’s all-rookie team in 2011-12 as a red-shirt freshman, joins Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, Marquette’s Vander Blue, and Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair on the second unit.

“It means a lot in my second year of playing college basketball,” said Grant of the honor. “I have to remind myself sometimes that it’s just my second year. I put a lot of pressure on myself. Just to know that I’m second team really means a lot.”

Grant was selected to the second unit despite finishing just 15th in scoring at 14.2 points per game. What set Grant apart was his clutch nature in the second half, plus the 5.9 assists per game, which were second only to Providence’s Vincent Council at 7.2. Grant also finished seventh in the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.9

“I’m very proud of Jerian,” Brey said. “It shows the respect the coaches in the league have for him. Jerian has methodically earned respect in this league.”


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