SACRAMENTO - “Cooooooleeeeeeeey!,” chants started quietly with the Golden 1 Center crowd Friday evening. With each made basket, the rallying call picked up steam and became louder and louder.
The legend of Jack Cooley grows.
It’s not the first time Sacramento Kings fans have cheered on the 6-foot-10 big man out of Notre Dame. Cooley became a fan favorite during Summer League in Las Vegas in July, so much so that the Kings gave the 26-year-old a shot as a two-way player this season.
“If you would tell 15-year-old Jack Cooley that he would be getting his name chanted in an NBA stadium, he probably would have exploded,” Cooley said. “It’s pretty good to have that come true and just be appreciated by a fanbase.”
The fans weren’t the only folks in the building cheering on Cooley. Sacramento’s bench could hardly control their excitement when he started making baskets.
“It was just awesome to see him do what he does, we see it in practice everyday that he’s up here,” Garrett Temple said. “Being a bull on the boards, offensive rebounds, putbacks, getting those big shoulders into guys and they can’t across his body it’s so wide. I’m real proud of him, real happy for him. He really helped change the game in the second half with his energy, his effort and his rebounding.”
Cooley’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but his impact on the game was felt. He finished the night tying his career-high with eight points and he added three rebounds and an assists in eight minutes of action.
“I’m thrilled for him,” Kosta Koufos said. “He’s a great guy, he works hard every single day. It’s good to see someone get rewarded for all the hard work they put in.”
Like JaKarr Sampson, the Kings’ other two-way player, Cooley brings a different energy and physicality to the game. He plays the game with a toughness that Sacramento lacks on most nights.
“He’s a fantastic dude,” Dave Joerger said. “He plays hard and he knows exactly why he has a chance to play and stay in the NBA, and that is - set hard screens and rebound your tail off and make those tough plays in the paint.”
This is the first season the NBA has experimented with the two-way player. Both Cooley and Sampson are eligible to come up and participate in both practice and games for a total of 45 days with the parent club. The rest of the time, they suit up for the team’s G-League affiliate in Reno.
“I think it does a great job of keeping really good players here in the States,” Cooley said of the two-way contract. “I believe there is a direct correlation with the success of the G-League and the success of the NBA. I think that the better the players that are here in the States and available for NBA teams really helps the overall skill level of the league.”
In 31 games with the Bighorns, Cooley has posted 17.6 points and 9.4 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game. He’s played in just two games with the Kings this season, including his stretch in Friday’s 94-88 win over the Orlando Magic, but he gives the team everything he has when he’s been given an opportunity.
Coming into this season, Cooley hadn’t played in the league since 2014 when he saw action in 14 games as a member of the Utah Jazz.
For one night, Cooley was king in Sacramento. As the team finishes the final 16 games of the season, there is always a chance that he’ll get another opportunity to shine and hear his name echo from the rafters of Golden 1 Center.