Monday, April 13, 2015

SHAPING UP: After rough redshirt freshman year, Cooney finds confidence, shooting stroke for Orange

For the first time all season, Trevor Cooney was mired in a slump.

The same shots that consistently swished through the net for the first 13 games of the season clanged off the rim. He made just 10-of-39 shots in a three-game stretch to start 2014. He looked lost.

But Cooney knew he would bounce back. He bounced back from a frustrating and ineffective redshirt freshman season. A mini rut was nothing he couldn’t handle.

Cooney lit up Boston College for 21 points on Monday night, including three rim-rattling dunks and a drained 3 that proved to be the difference in No. 2 Syracuse’s 69-59 comeback win over the Eagles.

“He had a tremendous offensive game tonight,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said.

Cooney has carried SU from downtown this season, just like his mentor Gerry McNamara did from 2002-2006. After shooting a woeful 26.7 percent from 3 last year, and averaging a shade more than three points per game, Cooney found his stroke. In addition to a 42.3 percentage from downtown this season, he’s also shooting 52 percent from inside the arc and 86.1 percent at the foul line.

Thanks to McNamara’s guidance and an improved offseason regimen centered around quickness and consistency, Cooney has emerged as one of the conference’s more complete players.

“I wanted to come out last year and make shots,” Cooney said, “and I wasn’t really able to do things right last year that I’m doing this year.”

Cooney sat behind Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams as a redshirt freshman, playing just 11 minutes per game. He struggled mightily trying to fill the role as the team’s third guard as Boeheim elected to tighten his rotation.

Cooney played just 20 total minutes in the Orange’s last four NCAA Tournament games.

“When you’re worried about playing time, it’s hard to correct something like your shot,” Cooney said.

Instead of sulking though, Cooney became a sponge. He sat next to McNamara on the bench every game and absorbed everything. The shooting specialists studied the nuances of the game together — chatting, jesting and analyzing from the sideline.

When McNamara transitioned to assistant coach midway through Cooney’s redshirt year, Cooney became the protégé and McNamara his mentor.

“He has been unbelievable,” Cooney said. “He is a great coach on the floor and a great friend off the floor. He has been someone that you can just turn to for anything.”

So Cooney turned his attention to next season. With Carter-Williams and Triche gone, he knew Syracuse needed him to consistently produce in order to be a national contender.

He spent the summer getting into tip-top shape, waking up at 5:30 every morning to work out.

Instead of placing emphasis on bulking up — like he did his freshman year — Cooney focused more on his conditioning, speed and agility.

“This summer I was able to take a step back and really realize what I was doing wrong, and practice the right things,” Cooney said.

His father watched him go from being able to “play linebacker for Syracuse”, to the nimble and agile two-guard that has thrived atop the 2-3 zone this season. Now he is second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in steals.

Cooney lost about eight pounds last summer, cutting down on his late-night Wawa runs and saying goodbye to meatball sandwiches. Instead, it was mom’s cooking. More fruits and vegetables, spaghetti, chicken — what he needed to get his body healthy.

Additional training with family friend and physical therapy assistant John Noonan also helped get Cooney into shape. Going to ATI therapy center at least three times per week, Cooney completed planks, four-to-eight second sprints and exhausting workouts on the treadmill — reaching a maximum of 22 miles per hour.

“Kills you,” Noonan said. “We just kind of gave him the blueprint, and he followed it.”

Delaware native and WNBA star Elena Delle Donne, who’s worked out with Noonan since second grade and trained with Cooney, said Cooney’s drive has always been incredible. She said she could count his misses during workouts on one hand.

“He was one of those people who when I knew he was going to work out, the intensity was going to be raised,” Delle Donne said.

Now his athleticism and motor have reached a new level this year. When teams play him to shoot, he is capable of putting the ball on the floor. When they lay off him — splash. And no matter what, he demands enough attention to open up the Syracuse offense.

Against Boston College Monday night, he soared through the air for three fast-break dunks in a row.

Three points per game-26.7 percent 3-point shooting-Trevor Cooney is history.

Taking jumpers at 4:45 for 7 p.m. games he wouldn’t play in as a freshman finally paid off. Patiently waiting in line to be Syracuse’s next star proved to be the right decision.

And as his all-around game has blossomed, McNamara’s been the driving force to ensure he stays on track. McNamara mastered the intricacies of the zone. He figured out how to get open while draped by athletic defenders.

Now he’s passed those skills onto Cooney.

“He moves as well off the ball as anybody I’ve ever been around,” McNamara said.

Cooney looked up to McNamara as a kid, and now his game has flourished thanks in part to one of his role models. Cooney’s father Brian said McNamara’s “like seven things in one for Trevor.” McNamara’s “been through the fire,” as Trevor’s brother Matt Cooney put it. He can relate to Trevor.

“Gerry was obviously a legend at Syracuse,” Matt Cooney said. “Trevor is hoping to become just a part of what Gerry achieved. If you could just achieve a piece of that it would be a hell of a career.”

Now Cooney – with his reserved swagger and complete game – will look to help Syracuse accomplish something it hasn’t done since 2003, when McNamara was just a 19-year-old freshman…

Win the national championship.

Published on January 15, 2014 at 3:13 am
Contact Trevor: | @TrevorHass

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