In the ultra-competitive world of the NBA D-League, every player is looking for an edge — one thing that will get him noticed by an NBA team and lead to an opportunity of a lifetime.
For Idaho Stampede forward Jack Cooley, that golden ticket has been established. The third-year pro is an elite-level rebounder, and his skills on the glass already have earned him stints with two NBA clubs.
Back in Boise for his second time with the Stampede, Cooley is hoping his ability on the boards continues to lead to next-level opportunities.
“Rebounding is the thing I know I’m best at,” Cooley said. “That’s my high-level NBA skill, so I just try to play with a lot of intensity and make sure teams continue to take notice.”
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Originally from Glenview, Ill., Cooley was a star at Notre Dame, where he earned first team All-Big East honors while averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds as a senior.
After a year overseas, Cooley played 20 games with the Stampede last season, averaging 16.8 points and 12.5 boards. His success led to a call-up with the Utah Jazz, with whom Cooley appeared in 16 games.
After spending training camp and preseason with the Jazz and then the Cleveland Cavaliers — he posted 15 rebounds in one preseason game with the Cavs — Cooley is putting his talents to work for Stampede coach Dean Cooper.
“The skill that gets him there is rebounding,” Cooper said. “He’s going to grab rebounds at every level. But one thing we talk about is areas of opportunity. What parts of your game you can legitimately improve, at least marginally? Because that can make that difference and get you to the (NBA).”
So what makes a successful rebounder? Being 6-foot-9 helps, but professional basketball is littered with tall guys who lack Cooley’s prowess on the glass.
“There are a lot of little secrets I’ve learned over the years,” Cooley said. “But to me, rebounding is 80 percent hustle and 20 percent technique. I’ve got the technique part down pretty well, but if you don’t have the hustle, you’re not going to be successful.”
Cooley, like notable NBA rebounders Charles Barkley and Kevin Love, spends time studying teammates and opponents. One can’t always tell which way the ball will bounce, but doing homework helps Cooley make a more educated guess.
“Rebounding really is a guessing game, but so is the stock market, and people make millions there,” Cooley said. “I try to pick up on people’s tendencies, how they shoot and where they usually miss. I take all of those things into account and try to eliminate some of the guess work.”
It’s working so far. In four games with the Stampede, Cooley is averaging 14.5 rebounds per game — including a 22-rebound performance Nov. 25 — along with 12.5 points and 2.5 steals. He’s also usually the first guy to hit the floor in pursuit of a loose ball and the first player off the bench to greet his teammates during timeouts.
“Jack’s a team guy who cares about winning,” Cooper said. “That’s why we were happy to have him last year, and it’s why we’re happy to have him back.”
The Stampede lost at the Raptors 93-91 in Mississauga, Ontario. Cooley led the team with 24 points and 12 rebounds, recording his fourth consecutive game with 10-or-more boards. Brandon Fields added 20 points and nine assists, while JJ O’Brien and E.J. Singler combined for 26 points.
Homestand begins Friday night
▪ Games: Reno at Idaho, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, CenturyLink Arena
▪ TV: Cable One channel 72
▪ Radio: 630 AM (Friday), 580 AM (Saturday)