SALT LAKE CITY — There are some basic morsels of information about Jack Cooley that the NBA — even his team, the Utah Jazz — have been getting wrong.
For one thing, Cooley is not from Evanston, Illinois. His hometown is Glenview, Illinois, which is about eight miles away from his faux-home on the shore of Lake Michigan.
And another thing, Cooley’s birthday is not April 4 like the NBA originally listed it (even fooling the Jazz, who tweeted him a nice message on the wrong day).
Cooley was born eight days later — April 12.
If you know anything about Cooley, it’s not a shock that he finds this misinformation (now correct on the Jazz website) funny. His affable personality is common for people who are born somewhere in Illinois at some point in April.
There are other things you might not know about Cooley. And, yes, we’re talking about Glenview’s Jack Cooley, the one with the April 12 birthday and a spot on the Utah Jazz’s summer league roster.
His peculiar training focus
Some people at the gym work on their biceps. Some work on their calves.
He’s focusing on his hips, something that was emphasized to him during a recent trip to the Jazz-subscribed P3 performance lab in Santa Barbara, California. (He described the performance lab's technology as being “astounding.”)
Cooley is a thick 6-foot-9, 246-pound big man who has plenty of muscle but will benefit from having stronger, tighter hips. That, he explained, will take stress off of the rest of his body while he bangs around the paint against other tough post players.
“You need to play lower. When your hips are not strong, it puts stress on the knees and lower back. Knock on wood, I haven’t had any of those problems,” he said. “When I’m down there battling with 280-pound guys, it’s good to get low and use my lower body to do that.”
His dog is Turkish
In 2013, Cooley eventually ended up playing professional basketball in Turkey following his successful college career at Notre Dame and summer-league experiences with Houston and Memphis.
As with other foreigners playing ball in Turkey, Cooley was assigned a home by his team in Trabzonspor. During the first night in his three-story townhouse — shortly after graduating from college — Cooley got kinda freaked out.
He told his team, “I can’t stay in this house by myself. I’m going to go insane.”
Turns out, the landlords needed somebody to watch their French bulldog.
Lola had been treated "horribly" and made to sleep outside in the cold, but Cooley pampered her. The American needed this Turkish girl as much as she needed him. They quickly bonded.
Call it puppy love.
“I became extremely attached to the dog,” Cooley said.
He was so attached, in fact, that when he left Turkey to return to the United States to pursue the NBA closer to home (the home in Glenview, not Evanston), he had some news for the dog’s owners.
“When I was leaving,” he said, “I told them, ‘I’m taking the dog with me.’”
And he did.
His new offensive weapon
Cooley is a brute on the boards and he can score in a variety of ways, especially bullying his way around the basket. But after last season ended, Jazz coaches suggested that he work on a floater from the half circle.
Cooley took them seriously. He knows it can give him an advantage over other bigs.
“I’ve been watching guards,” he said. He laughed and continued. “It’s ridiculous that I’m watching Chris Paul shoot a floater. I’m just trying to learn different techniques. ... My improvement on it has been very good."
Cooley credits Jazz assistant Alex Jensen, whose role is working with bigs, for helping his shooting form improve.
But Cooley knows where his bread will be buttered in the NBA.
“I think,” he said, “I can really help this team provide physicality, provide rebounding, screens, finish around the rim, help give Fav (Derrick Favors) and Rudy (Gobert) a blow.”
And by simply being a powerful energy guy.
“At Notre Dame, we always had scorers other than me. I got baskets a different way,” he said. “I’m OK with not being in the highest role. I’m always OK just making sure the team wins. As long as the team does well, that works for me. That’s the role that I want to take for the Jazz.”
His favorite NBA moment
Late in a rout of Denver in April, Cooley grabbed his own miss and put it back up for a bucket. The play that still makes him smile happened six seconds later on the other end of the court. Nuggets guard Gary Harris tried to catch the Jazz off guard in transition and soared up toward the rim for a dunk.
Cooley, who’d hustled back, had another idea.
In a play that made EnergySolutions Arena rock and his teammates leap off the bench, Cooley launched himself and rejected Harris’s attempt with his left hand before it reached the rim.
The block was incredible — and clean.
However, Cooley ended up flattening Harris as their momentum carried them onto the court.
“I made sure the block was clean. I had to make sure I protected myself when I landed. Gary kind of got body slammed,” Cooley said. “I earned a Rudy (Gobert) salute afterward. Those are pretty rare, so I’m happy I earned that.”
The moment he cried
Cooley wasn’t surprised when he was cut by the Jazz before the beginning of the 2014-15 season after he’d spent all of training camp with the team. Utah brass even told him they needed another wing (shooting guard Joe Ingles), so that dulled the pain of getting cut.
His journey back to the NBA — back to Utah — got off to a slow start. In the first quarter of his first game with the Idaho Stampede in November, Cooley tore a ligament in his right thumb.
“That,” he said, “was a great way to start off the season.”
He made the most of the time off, though, by working on a left-handed hook shot and by lifting weights every day during his six-week rehab. (Incidentally, his first NBA points were scored using that shot.)
“Everyone was shocked how good of shape and how strong I was when I came back,” Cooley said. “That really helped me transition back smoothly and to play again.”
In January, Cooley returned to D-League play and performed well enough that his agent, Adam Pensack, received a call from the Jazz informing him that they were calling the big man up to the NBA.
It took a while for Cooley to receive the news. He was out on a walk with Lola without his phone.
“Whenever Adam calls, I answer,” Cooley said. “The one time that’s the most important call Adam’s ever made to me, and I’m walking my dog.”
When the walk ended, Cooley’s phone showed eight missed calls from his agent and seven missed calls from his dad.
“All these calls,” he said. “I knew something was up.”
Something the then-23-year-old had waited and worked for was definitely up. He was getting another shot at the NBA — in the regular season this time.
“It was just a relief flowing off my shoulders when he finally told me that I got the 10-day with Utah,” Cooley said. “It was justification of all the work I’d done and all of the numbers I’d put up. All that came together. I always knew I belonged in the NBA, but to get it verified, it was a really good feeling.”
Tears flowed out of the giant of a human being’s eyes during that phone call with his agent.
It reminded Cooley of how he hadn’t been invited to the NBA draft combine after his Notre Dame career ended. It brought back memories of not getting drafted in 2013 and how he ended up in Turkey after not being able to stick with an NBA team, despite playing with the Rockets, Grizzlies and Cavaliers in summer leagues.
“I cried. Childhood dreams, everything. It was a big one,” Cooley said. “I’m not usually that emotional. That was just something, something special.”
How he handled rejection (again)
Cooley credits the Jazz for being transparent. They let him know they were going to look at several players (point guard Bryce Cotton being one, forward Jerrelle Benimon being another) after they called him up. They told him to not get discouraged. Cooley said management let him know, “We want to bring you in. We love you.”
Not surprisingly, Cooley was sent back to Idaho after his 10-day contract expired.
Some people scream in pillows to handle rejection. Some hit a punching bag. Others bawl, binge eat or listen to sad songs.
Cooley took it out on the D-League.
The forward/center returned with a nice 19-point, 12-rebound showing in his first game back with Idaho, and he was just getting warmed up.
His second game back: 22 boards and 21 points.
His third game back: 27 points and 29 rebounds, a D-League record.
Much to the relief of D-League opponents, Cooley was signed to a second 10-day contract by Utah after an ensuing huge game that included 20 points and 17 rebounds.
“I didn’t get discouraged,” he said. “I got the feeling, ‘I know I could do this. I know I can play well enough to be brought up. I know I belong there.’”
Cooley said teammates and coaches were egging him on to break the D-League single-game rebounding record of 28 when he’d snatched 16 boards by halftime of his monster night.
It happened to be the same night his alma mater, Notre Dame, played Duke in the ACC Tournament. He laughs that people were telling him, “You just broke the record,” and he responded, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. What was the Notre Dame score?”
The Fighting Irish had as big of a night as Cooley, upsetting second-ranked Duke in the ACC semifinals.
Days later, Cooley found himself back in Utah for a second stint, which led to him being signed to a multi-year, nonguaranteed deal. He figured some NBA team would notice his hard work and results. All the better for him that it was the Jazz.
“The Jazz recognized pretty quick what was happening,” Cooley said. “I definitely wanted to make sure I didn’t get down for being sent back down. It was just part of the process and just go out there and play as hard as I can.”
His weakness for girl scout cookies
Cooley has long been a fan of the American culinary treats Girl Scouts sell. His parents got him hooked on the cookies when he was younger, but he still cracks up about how they’d only buy one box for his family.
“How long is one box going to last?” he said, laughing.
The answer is: Not long.
“Ever since then,” he said, “I need to make sure I get my Girl Scout cookies for at least a year when they’re being sold.”
Cooley still laughs about the reaction a Girl Scout had when he bought her entire stock of his favorite cookie: Tagalongs, a popular and possibly addictive peanut butter-chocolate concoction.
“The girl’s head almost rolled off,” he said.
Shortbread cookies are the only ones Cooley doesn’t like. Why? “That one doesn’t make sense to me.”
Incidentally, Cooley celebrated his second 10-day contract by buying a bunch of boxes of Girl Scout cookies.
His amusement park fear
Once things slow down following the summer leagues in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas over the next couple of weeks, Cooley plans on taking a week off.
His likely vacation destination: Disney World.
The 24-year-old admitted the Animal Kingdom is his favorite part of the amusement park. Cooley added that he loves going on all rides ... except one.
“I won’t go on Space Mountain anymore because I’m very afraid of where those rafters are,” the 6-foot-9 forward/center said. “Really, I am.”
His future plans
Cooley earned multiple awards at Notre Dame, including Big East Most Improved Player (2012) and All-Big East first team (2013). He also earned something that will help him long after his life in hoops — a bachelor’s degree in finance.
Ask him about the market flow and he'll talk your ear off.
Eventually, Cooley would like to combine his love of finances and hoops to become a financial advisor for guys in the NBA.
“Mainly what I would like to do is help athletes invest money and avoid (bad financial) situations,” he said. “I know how hard all these athletes work, and to see how some of them don’t spend their money wisely just because they don’t have someone telling them (otherwise), I’d like to help them avoid that.”
If they’re lucky, he’ll even help build a Girl Scout cookie allowance into their budget.
Financial advisors who are born somewhere in Illinois at some point in April like to do things like that.
Until then, Cooley will continue to work hard to keep earning a spot in the NBA.
“I don’t think there will ever be a (time) when feel I like I’ve made it. There will never be a time when I’m content. I’ll always be working,” he said, pointing out how he’s continued working in Santa Barbara and Utah with Jazz coaches.
“I’ll never be content. I know the alternative.”
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