Guard Trevor Cooney a key cog for No. 2 Syracuse
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)
Jim Boeheim has a keen eye for finding diamonds in the rough - players he can take under his wing at Syracuse and develop over four years. Players such as Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Rick Jackson and James Southerland, who dutifully waited for their time to deliver at the Carrier Dome.
Add guard Trevor Cooney to the list. Only his path took longer than most.
He was relegated to a redshirt year when there was too much talent on the Orange bench. He then played a backup role last season behind senior Brandon Triche and star Michael Carter-Williams.
Even when his shots didn't fall with the regularity expected from a shooting guard, Cooney persevered.
Now, he's getting his chance and succeeding for the unbeaten No. 2 Orange.
Entering Atlantic Coast Conference play, Cooney was hitting a solid 50 percent of his 3-point shots (43 of 86).
After a difficult nonconference schedule, Cooney has cooled off a bit in ACC games as opponents have focused more on him - overall he's 52 of 123 (42.3 percent) on 3s.
Cooney still ranks second on the team in scoring (14.1) for Syracuse (17-0, 4-0).
''I'm making more this year, so that helps,'' Cooney said. ''It all comes with time and confidence. I have a lot of confidence in myself, and so do my coaches and the players. When you have that, it just skyrockets.''
Cooney has had seven games with five or more 3-pointers, with a high of seven in the season-opener against Cornell.
''Whenever he releases, we feel it's going in,'' senior C.J. Fair said.
Much of that confidence comes from starting for the first time.
Last season, Cooney played in all but one of the Orange's 40 games without making a single start, shooting 47 of 146 (32.2 percent) overall and a dismal 18 of 105 (26.7 percent) from behind the arc.
It was a struggle all the way. There were 18 games in which he logged single-digit minutes. In the final 18 games of the season, he was 5 of 28 on 3s.
Cooney mostly became a bench-warmer in Syracuse's last four games in the NCAA tournament, totaling a mere 18 minutes on a team that made the national semifinals.
''He's always shot the ball well,'' Boeheim said. ''It's hard to shoot from the bench. I never found a guy who could should 3s from the bench yet. He played well in spots last year behind a guy who's averaging 20 points in the NBA and a senior who was really, really good. He waited his turn. He worked hard. It's a good lesson.''
''It should be said his redshirt year he worked his tail off,'' the coach said. ''Then this year his opportunity came. He was ready. He's playing as well as anybody at that position on offense and defense.''
At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Cooney seems like a bigger version of former Orange star Gerry McNamara, in perpetual motion and diving for loose balls when not curling off a screen and hitting a 3-pointer.
''I think it (starting) was big,'' said McNamara, now Cooney's position coach. ''It was just a confidence factor, knowing you're going to be on the court and having a chance to play a little bit more minutes.''
''Last year, it was just really difficult to find the minutes,'' he said. ''Now, we're seeing the kid living up to it and exceed it, which is nice because he's worked hard to get it.''
That comes as no surprise to Cooney's high school coach, Stan Waterman. He talks regularly with his former star, the all-time leading scorer at the Sanford School in Delaware.
''His work ethic is unmatched,'' Waterman said. ''He's an old-school gym rat - the first one in and the last to leave. Last summer he was dedicated to reconditioning himself to be ready. Here, he was pegged as a shooter, but he's so much more.''
On Monday night at Boston College, Cooney displayed another facet of his game. He nabbed three steals in succession, raced to the other end and finished each with a resounding two-handed dunk, scoring 21 points in a comeback 69-59 victory.
McNamara's success enticed hundreds of fans from his hometown of Scranton, Pa., to regularly make the two-hour bus trip north to Syracuse to watch him. Waterman said Cooney's emergence is having an effect back home.
''There's a tremendous buzz around campus and around the state, `Did you see Trevor last night?' '' Waterman said. ''It's amazing. I heard stories about Gerry. I'm hoping there's a similar ending for Trevor.''
Follow John Kekis on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/Greek1947