Austin Cooley, a 6-foot-4 guard from Bethesda, Md., signed a national letter-of-intent Tuesday to join the Niagara men’s basketball team next season.

“I like the people at the school, I like the people in the city and it’s a good fit for me, basketball-wise,” Cooley said when reached on his cell phone.

Purple Eagles coach Joe Mihalich said Cooley is a “complete package.”

“He’s very athletic, he’s got some excitement to his game,” Mihalich said. “He’s kind of like a lot of kids from the D.C. area, the game comes naturally to him. I think that’s one of the best basketball areas in the world.”

Cooley returned from a broken hand in mid-season to average 16.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists last season for Bethesda-Chevy Chase. He “almost single-handedly led the Barons to their third Maryland 3A West title in his career,” according to the Washington Post, which selected Cooley as an All-Metro first-teamer and player of the year for Montgomery County.

“With long arms and terrific ball-handling skills,” the newspaper reported, “he presented matchup problems in both the half court and open court.”

“The great thing about Austin is that he can do a little bit of everything, and he does it very well,” said Bethesda-Chevy Chase coach Steve Thompson. “If the next four years are anything like the last four, you are really going to be entertained by a guy who understands the game of basketball, and plays it at a high level.”

Cooley is a willing passer, Thompson said, which led to his scoring average being lower than one might expect from a top Division I prospect.

With his length, quickness and jumping ability, Cooley plays bigger than his size, Thompson said, making him very tough to stop on the perimeter.

Cooley was also recruited by Loyola, one of Niagara’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rivals, he said, as well as East Carolina, Colorado State, Quinnipiac and Mount St. Mary.

“I started communicating with (Niagara) about a month-and-a-half ago, and I visited two weeks ago” Cooley said. “It was pretty much coach Mihalich recruiting me, but I talked to all of the assistant coaches, and I like them a lot. I like the players I met, too.”

“The more we saw him, it became increasingly clear that he was such a good player,” Mihalich said. “He made the (Washington Post) All-Met team, which is quite an honor. And we think his best years are ahead of him.”

Cooley joins Eric Williams, a 6-foot-7 forward from Montreal, in the Purple Eagles freshman class. Rob Garrison, the former Niagara Falls High School star who transferred from Connecticut, and Bilal Benn, a transfer from Villanova, will also become eligible to play this season.

Niagara graduates two seniors, Charron Fisher and Stanley Hodge, from last year’s 19-10 squad. They still have two available scholarships.

“We’re not done recruiting,” Mihalich said.

Contact reporter Jonah Bronstein at 282-2311, ext. 2258.

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