The 2011-2012 Big East Awards were announced over the weekend and a few names from Our Lady's University showed up to receive honors. Jack Cooley, who averaged 14.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in league play, was named to the All Big East 2nd Team and also won the Most Improved Player award. Jerian Grant, 12.3 points and 5.3 assists per game, also joined Cooley in the honors by being named to the All Big East Rookie Team (qualified as a redshirt freshman).
Sophomore guard and co-captain Eric Atkins was snubbed out of the awards ceremony for the second consecutive year (he was not voted to the Rookie Team last year and was a no-show on any of the lists this year) and a former Irish point guard who knows full well what it's like to be snubbed out of recognition you deserve dropped by One Foot Down to share his thoughts on this year's Notre Dame squad and what he's been up to since graduation two years ago.
The Interview with Tory Jackson after the jumpWhat have you been up to since graduating from Notre Dame?
"I've been in Fort Wayne playing in the NBDL Team (Fort Wayne Mad Ants) - which is affiliated with the Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons - and I've been playing pretty well (Jackson is currently the starting PG for the Mad Ants). This season's been up and down but just getting this year under my belt, especially after last year when my mom passed and get back on the court playing again that's been real important for me so I'm just trying get make the best of it."
*This may mean Irish fans should hope for an injury to one of the following players: Beno Udrich, AJ Price (laptops?), Will Bynum
What are your thoughts on this year's Irish squad, especially after the things they went through earlier in the year?
"I was excited in the beginning of the year, before the situation with Abro and dealing with injuries and bad losses, but I thought those times really helped them... helped the kids come along and get ready for the Big East season. Once it came those guys took full advantage and knocking off Syrcause that's huge 'cause they're the only that beat Syrcause all season and they ran through the rest of the schedule undefeated. I'm very excited about this year's team and even went to places where traditionally our teams don't do well and handled their business... I think this squad is special, it's really special... Jack Cooley improved like crazy and I'm just happy man."
Going back to your time with the Irish, Luke Harangody was probably the best player you played with, but who did you feel was the most underrated player during your four years?
"I always felt like the most underrated player was, if he would have stayed, was Joe Harden. He came in with myself, Harangody, Jonathan Peoples and Tim Andree. He was a skilled guy, but I felt like he wasn't patient enough... I think Notre Dame fans would have gotten something special out of him. I actually played against him this year (in the NBDL) and he was playing all five positions out there and was making an impact on that team."
As a guard, I assume you're watching Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant the most when you watch this year's team play, especially Eric - who was snubbed in the awards season - what is he good at right now and where does he still need to get better?
"Aww... I hate it - I was telling another reporter (Tom Noie - SB Tribune) on twitter that I felt like the PG's at Notre Dame they get no recognition... McAlarney didn't get any recognition until he became a 2 guard and more of scorer even though he did some nice things as a PG his freshman year. They really snubbed Eric this year. He really LED that team. He was talking more and really leading that team. If I could I would really tell all the coaches and reporters to change their vote and put him in because he really willed ND in some games - making big shots and what not. He should have been on the 1st or 2nd team.... One thing he does need to work on though is his on ball defense. More and more guys are gonna try to attack him next year and on but he's a long kid and athletic and if he can, and Jerian too, improve on that end with those two guys up top... no one's gonna be able to snub him."
It looks like Mike Brey will win Big East Coach of the Year (for the 4th time), what is the biggest lesson he taught you during your time there?
"I grew up a lot under coach Brey. I was a childish and arrogant kid going in to be honest. I always spoke whatever was on my mind and whatever but he brought me to another level. He showed me that I didn't have to go out there and talk cocky because my game was cocky enough and he helped me have a quiet, confident swag about myself. He made me a better leader. You can't teach leadership - you gotta be born with that - but he really polished that in me. He helped me become a better man on and off the court. At one point and time I didn't think I would ever see the court because I was struggling with my grades in the beginning, but he put his foot down and even though I was one of his (favorite) guys he never let me slack off and even suspended me from on-court activities for a while and called my parents about it and kept me grounded. I didn't slip ever since. He gets the best out of his players, that's the one thing I can say about that guy."
What is your favorite game memory?
"My senior night. That game was so sloppy in the first half - I think the score like 19-18 - and I was just like emotional early but in the second half, I think I scored like 20 points in the second half and it was against Connecticut and we hated them so it felt good getting a win against them in my last game."
What are your predictions for this team going into the Big East Tourney and the NCAA Tourney?
"Big East, I don't see those guys doing anything less than semi-finals. Definitely winning Thursday night and they beat Marquette (who they will meet in the semis if seeds hold) last time - and I think they're gonna be hungry enough to really go after those wins. In the semi finals and beyond ANYTHING can happen and I really think that this might be the year - I think they're gonna get into the finals. And in the NCAA, if they get into the semi's or finals in the Big East they'll get some better seeding and hopefully avoid a match up like Florida State - 'cause that team last year was a MAN of a team last year - then I think they can win the first two games. That's what coach Brey will tell them cuz it'll be like a Big East weekend - sometimes we'd play Thursday and Saturday night and that's what it'll be like in the tourney - and he'll tell the guys to treat it like that and those guys will buy in 'cause they're hungry - and if all those things click I think they can get to the Sweet 16 - which they haven't been to in forever."
Go give him some love people - he's a class act and quite the PG too (remember that 15 assist game he had against #3 Syracuse? that was quite the individual effort)!