At last year’s Notre Dame men’s basketball awards banquet a new tradition was started. Calling it “An evening with Notre Dame Basketball”, the idea was to give Irish fans a closer, more intimate experience with the team. Wednesday's second “Evening with Notre Dame basketball”, held at Purcell Pavilion, added to the new tradition when Notre Dame Monogram Club MVP, Jack Cooley, proposed to his girl friend of three years, Jackie Oberlander, at the end of his senior speech.
As surprising as the proposal was, it was not a surprise for Cooley, a first-team all-Big East selection and an Associated Press Honorable Mention All-America honoree was named the team’s most valuable player. Cooley was the second leading scorer (13.1ppg) and top rebounder (10.1) for the Irish during the 2012-13 season. The senior from Glenville, Ill led the Big East in double-doubles with 10.
Cooley was named the Big East Conference’s Most Improved Player in 2012 and this season was the only conference player to average a double-double during the league’s 18-game regular season schedule as he scored 12.4 points a game while pulling down 10.1 rebounds. The big man was part of a senior class that became the all-time winningiest in Notre Dame history. From 2009-13 the Irish won a program best 97 games.
“The stat I was most proud of is the 97 wins,” said Cooley. “For my career that’s the stat I’m most proud of. Our team having success is really what helped define me as a player here.”
This was an evening for everyone associated with the Notre Dame basketball program to celebrate the 2012-13 season in which the Irish had 25 wins, second most in head coach Mike Brey’s era, and made its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Fans were treated to special access to the men’s locker room and facilities while getting to meet the Notre Dame players and coaches one-on-one before the awards portion of the evening took place.
Other players receiving awards were junior walk-on Patrick Crowley who received the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley Rockne Student-Athlete Award. Senior Tom Knight was presented with the Most Improved Player award, sophomore Pat Connaughton was honored with the Defensive Player of the Year Award and Eric Atkins was the winner of the Captain’s Award.
An honorary monogram was award by Brey to long-time Notre Dame radio play-by-play announcer Jack Nolan. The 31-year veteran of the Irish broadcasts becomes the 276th honorary monogram member.
The annual basketball awards banquet now named “An evening with Notre Dame basketball” is a night to also honor the outgoing seniors. One by one, the four seniors on this year’s team took to the podium to share with the audience their Notre Dame experience.
Scott Martin, a sixth-year senior gave the shortest speech thanking Coach Brey for going after the Purdue transfer. Brey called Martin the “straw that stirred the stick.” Martin said coming to play for Notre Dame was like “winning the lottery.”
Preceding Martin with their thank you speeches were Mike Broghammer and Joey Brooks. The final senior speech was left for Jack Cooley, who remarked early on that he was a little nervous being in front of the crowd, but he would “treat it like a free throw.” Cooley said, “I made 70% of my free throws, so there is a 30% chance this goes terribly wrong.”
Nothing went wrong as he thanked all the appropriate people with special recognition of his parents. He then said he purposely saved a special someone for last. That person was his girlfriend, who was part of the surprise moment of the evening. Cooley calmly got down on one knee and with ring in hand proposed. She nodded yes a few times and with a standing ovation, they left the stage hand in hand.
Brey then took to the podium a final time to say, “that’s a tough act to follow.”
It certainly will be for years to come.