Hooper ready for the games to begin

By: John Holt

For Jordan Hooper, the decision on where to attend college was never one that she stressed over.

The more complicated issue was always which sport she would play. In high school, Hooper was a three-sport standout athlete. She was a three-time all-state volleyball selection, won the Nebraska Class B state long jump title in track and field as a senior and was a two-time Gatorade Nebraska Player of the Year in basketball.

She quickly erased the idea of continuing track in college, but struggled when it came to deciding between basketball and volleyball.

Initially, she was offered a volleyball scholarship at the University of Nebraska. The Cornhuskers volleyball program is widely considered one of the best in the nation having reached 11 NCAA Final Fours in its storied history. Hooper admitted that she almost went that route.

"Nebraska is known for volleyball and football," Hooper said, "and I thought that'd be so cool to make a name for myself there. But then I thought about it, and I was like, I don't think I could play four years of volleyball and have fun with it the whole time. I really had to do a self-evaluation of what I really did like and what I really didn't like, and that's why I chose basketball in the end."

From the moment Hooper arrived in Lincoln, Neb., she proved that she made the right decision. As a freshman she started all 31 games, leading the Cornhuskers in scoring (14.6 ppg.) and 3-pointers made (67). The following year, as a sophomore, she was the Big Ten Conference's rebounding leader (9.3 rpg.) and helped Nebraska to an NCAA Tournament appearance. Meanwhile this past season as a junior, as her team advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, Hooper posted averages of 17.9 ppg., 8.8 rpg. and 1.1 spg.

"There's been ups and downs," Hooper said of her first three collegiate seasons. "You definitely have drama and stuff on the team that you have to work through and everything. That part is hard. That's when everything gets tough.

"But I think when you can fight through all that, and get better from that, then I think it makes it a lot more fun."

Growing up on a ranch near Alliance, Neb., Hooper states that she never watched basketball growing up. Even these days, she rarely finds herself in front of a television studying other teams or players. She enjoys watching the collegiate men perform, but that's about it.

"I think they're really fun to watch," she said. "I don't like hone in on one player. I hone in on a team, and watch what they do. I don't really watch the pros very much because I don't really think that's basketball, personally."

What makes Hooper such a highly respected player is her work ethic and attention to detail. While primarily being regarded as a dangerous 3-point shooter, she's also shown that she can put the ball on the floor and be a monster on the glass. Her teammates back at Nebraska sometimes refer to her as "Dirk" in comparison to Dallas Mavericks' superstar Dirk Nowitzki, a 7-footer who has a similar skillset.

"She can really shoot it," USA and University of Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale said. "That's sort of one of those things that's so obvious you don't even want to talk about it. To me, she has done the little things. When I ask them to sprint to do a ball screen I've never seen her go to set one that she didn't sprint.

"So, it's that kind of stuff that sticks out to me."

With one collegiate season remaining, Hooper currently ranks second in Nebraska women's basketball history in 3-point field goals made with 215. Interestingly, however, she never shot a 3-pointer before her sophomore year of high school.

"That's my favorite shot," she acknowledged. "It's my go-to thing. I'd go into town and shoot and shoot. I wouldn't just shoot threes, but I would always have more fun with those ones."

Standing 6'2" and displaying deep range, Hooper has the ability to cause several matchup problems once the USA Women's World University Games Team begins competition in Kazan, Russia. Normally positioned as a forward, Coale, her USA head coach, expects her to play some center during stretches of the tournament.

"I think she will have to play a little bit of 5 for us," Coale said, "and use her tenacity and use her athleticism to front post and to fight around and then get into rebound position. I think with the team that we have, there's no doubt that some of those guys who are more accustomed to playing facing the basket are going to have to spend a little bit of time inside."

The USA women have produced some outstanding recent success at the World University Games, capturing gold the last four times USA Basketball has sent an entry. Having never previously traveled to Russia, Hooper envisions the trip being one that will create lifelong memories for her.

"I'm real excited to see it because I think it's going to be awesome just to see somewhere different, not Nebraska and not Colorado," she said. "I'm looking forward to bonding with this team and getting to know these players, these people because I think that's really the most important thing. You're really not going to remember the scores or the teams you played. You're going to remember who you're with and the coaches. I'm looking forward to it."

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