Jack Cooley is a very plausible Big East Player of the Year.
Anyone who has watched Notre Dame play the sport of basketball over the past five years knows how utterly surprising that sentence is. Early in his career, Cooley was a body. That was basically it. Even better, he was a body that looked exactly like much-more-famous former Notre Dame star Luke Harangody. Cooley was a body and a novelty. Now Cooley is a capable interior scorer, a dominant offensive rebounder, a Big East POY candidate and, yes, a vocal leader on a team expected to push Louisville and Syracuse at the top of the 2012-13 Big East.
Even Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is shocked -- his word, not mine -- at this development:
"I'm shocked, and so pleased, to see the maturity of this guy," coach Mike Brey said. "His teammates were down on him as a young guy because there were days he didn't want to do it. Now his teammates respect him. When he says something, they're going to listen to him. I never thought we'd get to that point. That was not a goal. I just wanted him to be serious about him."
That quote comes via the Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton, who has a nice line about Cooley -- that he was "devoted more to Xboxes than box-outs" early in his career. All too true. Last season, Cooley fully copped to a borderline-destructive video-game habit, one that he had to dispose of before he could become totally serious about basketball. (His quote: "Never get 'Skyrim.'" For the sake of my own career, I dutifully followed this advice.)
And now, not only is more than a 'Gody lookalike, and more than a solid piece on a quality team. He's a vocal leader. Honestly, who saw that one coming?