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February 26, 2010

Cooley's fantastic voyage

Jack Cooley got the call when Luke Harangody went down with a knee injury.

That doesn't mean the Irish freshman can receive them.

Two days after his legitimate college debut at Louisville, when Cooley got the ESPN treatment of a Harangody side-by-side camera angle and logged a career-high 19 minutes with five rebounds, five fouls, two points and one block, the 6-foot-9, 244-pound forward's phone broke.

"Probably from all the texts," Cooley said. "I'm afraid to get a new one and turn it on. The phone guy is going to be holding it, it's going to explode."

Welcome to college basketball, Jack Cooley.

Notre Dame needed the product of Glenview, Ill., to find a path onto the court, where he stayed with 13 minutes, four rebounds, three fouls and one chant from the Joyce Center crowd during a blowout of Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The Irish need more of the same Saturday against Georgetown (noon tip on CBS) and future lottery pick Greg Monroe.

Mostly the Irish just want Cooley off the practice squad.

"Don't tell nobody, but I hate playing against him," said point guard Tory Jackson "Even though he's my teammate, in practice I hate it because I know if he sets a screen it's going to be one of the hardest screens ever because he makes sure he gets that body on you."

Obviously, Notre Dame (18-10, 7-8) has had bigger issues than the fortitude of its screens. That might make hyping a freshman with more fouls (8) than points (2) in the past two games seem off-point. But there's no doubt Cooley's inclusion into the rotation gives Notre Dame a little extra oomph, something missed in lethargic losses to St. John's, Rutgers and Seton Hall.

Against Pittsburgh, Cooley flailed around the court, imitating a fawn on frozen pond. Not only did his teammates love it, so did the crowd of 8,581. Cooley hit the floor diving for a loose ball, then later swatted a Travon Woodall lay-up and nearly tackled Dante Taylor before running up court.

Finally, somebody else felt the brunt of Cooley's brutish bullying.

"Honestly man, we hate playing against Jack Cooley in practice," said Tyrone Nash. "The man screens you, we've got to tell him that we're your teammates. But we love it. We need that. He's going to make a play the way he wants to make it."

With Harangody likely out again this weekend against the Hoyas, it gives Cooley a chance to extend his run from forgotten reserve to key contributor. In Notre Dame's first 13 Big East games, Cooley logged just seven minutes total to go with seven DNP's. Now Cooley is an almost regular.

He can thank Harangody's injury and the All-American's presence for that.

"Playing against the best player in the league is going to greatly help your game," said Cooley, who's been guarding Harangody since summer school began in mid-June. "It helps on defense because no matter who I'm guarding out in the game it's not as good as Luke."

Cooley admits that finding his place has been difficult whether he's playing or not. During the second half against Pittsburgh he took a pass in the post and was left unguarded, but instead of powering to the hoop Cooley locked up, over-thinking if he should shoot or pass to run clock.

After the possession, Ben Hansbrough let Cooley know his aggression shouldn't just come on screens and rebounds.

"From high school when everything goes around you and out here my role is to get everybody else open," Cooley said. "I'm fine with that. As long as the team's winning I'm perfectly OK, but that's a little adjustment I had to make.

"I've just been having so much fun out there lately, it's been great."


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