SALT LAKE CITY — Jack Cooley didn’t respond to the first invitation he received to play for Team Jimmer in The Basketball Tournament.
It wasn’t personal. He wasn’t being rude. He wasn't playing hard to get or waiting for a better offer, either.
The former Utah Jazz big man — and fan favorite wherever he goes — simply didn’t see a private message he received from Jordon Crawford on Instagram.
“I wasn’t following him,” Cooley admitted, chuckling.
That didn’t stop the former Bowling Green standout, who had the task of getting the brawny 6-foot-10, 246-pound power forward to join Jimmer Fredette & Co. in their pursuit for the $2 million TBT prize.
Crawford tracked down the Notre Dame alum's phone number, called him and “convinced” Cooley to play. As soon as he met up with his new teammates, Cooley said former BYU player Brandon Davies was among those who told him, “We absolutely hated playing against you, but … we all wanted you on the squad.”
Cooley couldn't have received a bigger compliment. If he’s annoying opponents and endearing himself to his teammates, he’s doing something right.
“It was good to hear that,” he said.
Cooley said he’s thoroughly enjoyed this experience, which continues Thursday (7 p.m. MT, ESPN) when No. 2 Team Jimmer takes on No. 7 Eberlein Drive in the semis at Morgan State University in Baltimore.
The winner will face the survivor of a showdown between No. 1 Overseas Elite and No. 3 Golden Eagles (Marquette) on Friday night for the huge purse.
“Playing with Jimmer is unbelievable. I’ve always watched him from afar, but finally playing with him is incredible,” Cooley said. “It’s a blessing and a blessing to play with my teammates.”
Cooley marvels at how TBT opponents have been unable to slow down Fredette, who’s leading the tournament with 32.8 points and multiple classic Jimmer shots a game.
“Other teams’ entire strategy is to stop him, and it doesn’t help,” Cooley said. “The way he gets the offense, the way he creates, the way he helps his teams is just fantastic. Our team is built around him.”
And, yes, Cooley believes Fredette belongs in the NBA.
“There’s no way there’s 300 people better than him in basketball. No way,” Cooley said. “I absolutely think he should be in the NBA. … I don’t think there’s a team that has 15 guys better than him. I don’t see it.”
Like Fredette, who’s carved a cult following in China, Cooley is headed to play internationally this season — barring a call from an NBA front office. Cooley, who’s set to make $140,000 if Team Fredette wins, has agreed to play for Dinamo Sassari of the Italian League. He called it a “very lucrative” deal, and the location — the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea — is a huge bonus.
“I get to play basketball and every day it’s like a vacation,” he said. “It’s going to be fantastic.”
Cooley still has fond memories of playing for the Jazz in 2015 — because of the fans and the scenery.
“Utah,” he said, “is beautiful in a different way (than Sardinia).”
Overall, Cooley is very happy with the direction of his life even if he hasn’t found a long-term home in the NBA. (He played for Sacramento and the Reno Bighorns last season.) The 27-year-old recently bought a house in the Chicago suburbs and continues to be a hit with whatever team he’s playing on because of his physical style of play, relentless hustle and gregarious personality. He got a kick out of hearing an “M-V-P” chant while playing for the Phoenix Suns last month in the Las Vegas summer league. Making that game all the more fun for him was having ex-teammate and friend Vince Carter talk him up while providing commentary on the broadcast.
"He's big-time," Carter said. “You don't understand. Jack Cooley is a star, man. He's a star."
Cooley couldn’t hear Carter say that live, but he knew he was being talked about in a positive manner. He could hear the Sin City fans, and loved that, too.
“There’s always smattered MVP chants,” he said. “But to have solid, loud MVP chants was a fun experience.”
Winning the TBT would be a nice way to finish off the summer.28 comments on this story
“I think that our team is built better than any other team. We didn’t just focus on getting all the best players. We focused on building a team to win,” Cooley said. “I think we’re going to be really, really difficult to beat. I think we’ve handled the 16 and 8 opponents the best of anyone in final four. I really like our chances going into this.”
By the way, all is good between Cooley and Crawford despite the Instagram incident.
“He was cool with it,” Cooley added.
And not only did Crawford end up with him as a teammate, but he also got added to his followers’ list.
“I am for sure following now.”