What's Next for an Undrafted Free Agent, Post-Summer League?
Once summer league has ended, life can be full of questions and uncertainty for an undrafted free agent hoping to make the journey to the NBA.
After an outstanding college career that saw him lead the Big East in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds and total rebounds as a senior for Notre Dame, Jack Cooley is now looking to make that difficult transition to the Association.
Although he never had the pleasure of hearing his name called out by David Stern or Adam Silver at the 2013 NBA draft, he still thrived against the competition at summer league, both in Orlando and Las Vegas.
Cooley averaged 7.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game with the Houston Rockets, then traveled to the Strip. While playing with the Memphis Grizzlies, the big man put up 15.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, consistently showing off a smooth jumper from the outside.
It allowed him to emerge as one of the summer league standouts, but his performance hasn't landed him an NBA contract yet.
On behalf of Bleacher Report, I had an opportunity to discuss this experience and what comes next with the 22-year-old power forward.
Signing with an NBA Team
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B/R: A few of the summer league standouts like yourself have signed already. Ian Clark with the Jazz was the most recent one. Have you been talking with any teams since the tournament ended?
JC: My agent and I have been talking to a bunch of teams. I think she said up to about 12, and a lot of the teams are giving feedback in the talking process. Something is going to happen relatively soon, as has been common with some of the other players.
Some teams that are talking to you will want to wait and see how the free-agency process plays out a little bit more. Sometimes they're just not in a rush to make decisions.
But we're talking to a whole bunch of teams right now.
B/R: Since you grew up in Illinois and went to college in Indiana...Bulls or Pacers fan? Would playing for either be a dream come true?
JC: Playing for any team, honestly, would be a dream come true. But playing for the Bulls would be pretty ridiculous after my entire life. Going to all those games, at least when I was free in season while I was little. I've always been a huge Bulls fan. It would be pretty incredible.
But I mean, really playing in the NBA in general would be a dream come true.
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B/R: If that doesn't happen for some reason [getting an NBA contract], would you be looking overseas?
JC: Yes, I would. I mean, I'm definitely going to play basketball next year. It just depends on where, and if something doesn't open up, then I have to go overseas. I would be fine with that.
B/R: Have you spent time abroad before? How much of a culture shock would you be expecting?
JC: I actually played overseas in the  East Coast All-Stars Game. Part of the thing that's going on right now. But I was back at Notre Dame.
I wouldn't think there'd be much—I mean, there probably would be some of a culture shock—but I don't really go out all that much. I think I'd probably be able to adapt pretty well.
B/R: Have you played under FIBA rules before?
JC: I think the tournament was under FIBA rules. I'm not so sure, though. The ball was different.
The D-League as an Option
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B/R: How about the D-League? Especially after Glen Rice Jr. managed to go from the Vipers to the Wizards pretty recently, does that seem like more of an appealing possibility?
JC: I don't know right now. I'd be more open to go to Europe, probably, than to go down to the D-League. But it all depends on situation. It depends on how everything is looking and how things are going in terms of where I would go as opposed to D-League and Europe. So I'd have to take that into account.
B/R: Can you talk about any of the specific factors that would go into that decision?
JC: Some of the factors would be the team's situation, in terms of the D-League, and how close you would be to being called up or if you were just there to be there. Things of that nature. You get a pretty good feel, and the team will let you know. Teams usually want what's in your best interest.
They'll probably tell you, go to Europe and we'll call you back if we need you or go to the D-League because we'll need you at any point and time during this year.
B/R: Is there any sort of time frame for the decision?
JC: No, not really. It's probably going to be relatively soon, I would like to say. But, I mean, teams are all having meetings and summer league ended like four days ago, five days ago. So teams are starting to talk and have meetings, and they're just coming back and they're settling in. So it'll be sometime soon.
On Mock Drafts and the Drafting Process
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B/R: Did you pay attention to any of the mock drafts going into the drafting process? What were your expectations going into the big day?
JC: I've been attached to a few of them. I don't really always like to look at stuff like that because being a part of the process, you see just how unsure the teams are themselves of what they're doing. So why would someone who isn't even associated with any team actually know what was really going on through the process? So I don't really pay attention to those that much.
On the big day, I just hoped that something good would happen. I wasn't very nervous. It just was what it was.
I didn't end up getting drafted, obviously, and it turned out OK.
The Summer League Experience and 3-Point Shooting
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B/R: Moving on to summer league, what were your main takeaways from the experience? How did it compare to your time at Notre Dame?
JC: Summer league was pretty fun. It was actually really, really fun. I was able to go out there and play to the strengths of my own game, where at Notre Dame, I had to play more in the system that would help us win the most. Which I'm fine with, really—whatever it takes to make the team win.
But in summer league, I was able to go out there and show off different parts of my game, including my shooting. On the offensive end, I was allowed a little more freedom, and that helped me get a little more fluid, get a little more comfortable out there right away. Where I can just play the way I know I can play.
It was a really fun experience.
B/R: I assume you plan on using this three-point shooting a little more in the future?
JC: Oh yeah. Definitely.
I shot pretty well earlier on in summer league and then in the tournament. I'm very happy with how I performed in terms of shooting, and I'm definitely going to keep it up.
B/R: You went 1-of-2 [from downtown] during your Notre Dame career. Do you remember the one you made?
JC: Yeah, it was the first game of the season. It was against Evansville. I caught it at the top of the key, and the kid literally backed up like under the basket. And I was like, "That's insulting. I can't let that happen."
So I shot it, and it went in.
I didn't really have many opportunities the rest of the season. I shot one more that was at the shot clock, and that was it.
B/R: [Notre Dame head coach] Mike Brey wasn't like, "Hey, let's have him shoot it more now"?
JC: Not really. During the game against the Cavaliers, I made two, which was more than I made in my entire career in college. In one summer league game. So it kind of shows you how my game's transitioning.
That was literally the first time on a basketball court that I was able to take shots I know I can make.
Playing for 2 Different Summer League Teams
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B/R: How did the experience in Orlando with the Houston Rockets differ from the time you were in Vegas with the Memphis Grizzlies?
JC: The Rockets were different in the way that they had three very good roster players on it [sic]: Patrick Beverley, Terrence Jones and Greg Smith. They were the base, and everyone that was part of the team knew that's why they were there.
Both the organizations are run extremely well, I can say. From what I saw, they were both run very similarly. Very well coordinated, very well planned out, but the differences were really the players on both teams.
With Memphis, it was more rookies and guys who aren't in the league. A couple contract guys. In Orlando with Houston, it was more the guys. And they're going to go out and do their thing.
B/R: Were there any teammates you really clicked with?
JC: In Memphis, I played pretty well with the point guard, Gerald [Robinson]. And Vander [Blue] and I got along. We were in both places together, and so we had a pretty good time together. I'm fortunate out there; I get along with people pretty well.
On the Court
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B/R: In your opinion, what's the one thing you really have to do, really have to work on in order to make a name for yourself in the NBA?
JC: I just have to continue doing what I've been doing and go out there playing as hard as I can each and every game. I know in my opinion I'm one of if not the best rebounder in this draft class, and I know I can be a top-tier rebounder in the NBA. I just have to go out there and let teams know that.
Not only can I be a top-tier rebounder, but I can help on the offensive end too. More than just being a screener, I can get occasional shots and pick-and-pop sometimes, and I can do a whole bunch of things that can help the team win.
B/R: What's your favorite thing to do on the basketball court?
JC: Rebound. Definitely.
If I look at a stat sheet and it said like 10 and 19, I'm ecstatic.
B/R: Was it always that way, even playing in church leagues and what not while growing up?
JC: Well the first [place] they really started keeping track of stats was in AAU. I played on a pretty good AAU team with a lot of people who were happy to score, where I just liked to tell myself to go out there to rebound and defend.
I did that well enough to get an offer at Notre Dame, and it's worked out pretty well.
How Much Do Stats Matter?
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B/R: Are you a stat guy? Do you look at analytics to help you out and improve the performance?
JC: Yeah, I mean, sometimes. It's always good to know statistics, but not really. Not all that much. There are good stats to judge a player, to improve your game by looking at. It helps tell you what you need to work on sometimes in terms of where you're shooting from.
B/R: So Mike Brey never really emphasized that at Notre Dame?
JC: No; Coach wouldn't, in terms of the numbers, he wouldn't ever really bring that up.
Long-Term Goals and Final Thoughts
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B/R: What are the long-term goals for your career now, and what do you plan on doing in order to reach those?
JC: My long-term goal is to have a nice, long, healthy career in the NBA. Help whatever team I'm on throughout my career. Help the team win games and get better. Help them get to a championship.
Also to make sure that I keep having fun with basketball. I love playing the sport. Just make sure that never changes.
B/R: The next time we hear the name Jack Cooley, what do you want us to think?
JC: A guy that's in the NBA...a guy who deserves to be there.