Jack Cooley looked to have a hard road ahead of him coming out of Notre Dame as an undrafted and undersized big man that didn’t seem to have much pro potential, according to the majority of NBA scouts. After a standout performance at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament followed by solid showings with both the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies in the Summer Leagues, though, Cooley earned an honest look when NBA training camps start in the fall.
That opportunity apparently presented itself with quite a few teams offering him guaranteed money, but the 6-foot-9 post has instead decided to start his professional career overseas with Trabzonspor in the Turkish Basketball League.
Why would a player that seemed like he’d never get one legitimate NBA opportunity turn down training camp invites from ⅓ of the best league in the world — especially considering some teams offered more than the standard minimum $25,000 for Cooley to show up and try and make their regular season roster, according to Cooley’s agent, Adam Pensack of Pensack Sports?
“The NBA guarantees were more than $25,000, but the deal in Turkey is unusually lucrative, especially for a rookie,” Pensack told Pro Basketball Talk on Saturday night. “Turkey is also arguably the best league in Europe, especially for bigs, so the opportunity to play real minutes against top-flight competition was too good to pass up.”
Some of the bigs in Turkey’s top division last year that might be familiar to our American readers included Joey Dorsey, Chinemelu Elonu, Artsiom Parakhouski, Alade Aminu and J.P Prince — none of which, aside from possibly Dorsey, are knocking down NBA doors — but the league’s crop of bigs look like they’ve improved this year. According to Mark Porcaro, one of the most underrated basketball researchers around, bigs playing in Turkey this year already include Boston Celtics draft pick Colton Iverson, Drew Gordon, Nate Jawai, Damir Markota, Furkan Aldemir, Semih Erden, Milan Macvan and Chuck Davis.
That list makes it difficult to confirm whether Turkey is indeed one of the best leagues in Europe when it comes to its crop of big men, but the above-listed players have been legitimate NBA prospects at some point in the basketball careers. Regardless, Pensack believing that Cooley’s opportunity to play good minutes against top-flight competition was too good to pass up certainly makes sense.
That opens up a different question, though, because — after working as a director of basketball operations in the NBA Development League last season — I can attest that the bigs who end up making their way through the D-League are quite talented as well. Knowing that, and realizing Cooley would be a focal piece of his D-League team after competing in an NBA training camp, why wouldn’t Pensack instead place his client in a league where it’d be easier for NBA teams to keep an eye on his him throughout the upcoming season?
Essentially, it came down to money. Cooley would’ve earned, at most, $25,500, insurance and a place to stay if he chose to play in the D-League this year. Considering he turned down more than that from the NBA to just attend a team’s training camp to instead play in Turkey, it makes sense that he’d once again look at the higher-paying option overseas.
“As for the D-League? If Jack didn’t make a roster out of camp, we certainly discussed the possibility,” Pensack said, “But from a business perspective, this move made the most sense. Most players just never have an option like this, especially in their first year.”
It’s hard to blame Cooley for passing up on the financial security a season overseas can provide, but it also speaks volumes when wondering how close the NBA truly is to achieving success with the D-League. If players such as Cooley — a guy on the cusp of the NBA with 10 teams offering training camp opportunities — are going overseas to cash in bigger paychecks, when will the Development League begin to make staying stateside worth a good player’s while? Regardless of that, though, taking the overseas opportunity makes sense when knowing that his handlers have high hopes for what Cooley can accomplish during his season abroad.
“Jack will take full advantage of the opportunity and will come back next year as a better player,” Pensack assured me. “He made one three in his entire college career but he can really shoot the ball — as he showed in summer league — so a full year of doing it in games against top-level competition will do wonders for him.”
If the ferocious rebounder and is able to add a reliable three-point shot to his repertoire, the NBA better watch out next season. For now, though, Cooley’s decided to take the guaranteed money and run.