By Jeff Griesch
Nebraska Media Relations
The numbers are staggering. It is impossible to ignore them when considering the career of Nebraska senior women’s basketball player Jordan Hooper: 2,208 points, 1,054 rebounds, 279 three-pointers, 124 consecutive starts.
The two-time All-American and two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection has done nothing but produce on the court for the Big Red since day one of her freshman season in 2010-11. Looking back, it is certainly fitting that in Hooper’s first game as a starter – 124 games ago – Nebraska set the school three-point record with 17-of-33 shooting against Vermont on Nov. 10, 2010. Hooper went 3-for-7 from long range in that game and finished with 15 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.
A total of 123 games and 272 three-pointers later, Hooper hit 4-of-6 threes as part of the best three-point shooting night by percentage in school history and the nation this season, as the Huskers buried 16-of-22 threes in a 94-74 win over No. 8 Penn State. Hooper finished her night with 19 points and 12 rebounds for the 37th double-double of her career – moving ahead of 1993 Wade Trophy winner Karen Jennings into the No. 2 spot on the Husker career list.
While Hooper’s totals in every category have increased every season, her career at Nebraska has been a countdown to greatness since she first announced her decision to make the six-hour journey from Alliance to Lincoln. For the devout and frenzied followers of Nebraska women’s basketball, it has also been a countdown to Senior Night – the celebration of one of the greatest careers in Husker history and the favorite daughter of not only Alliance and Western Nebraska, but the entire Cornhusker State.
Hooper is one only five Big Ten players in history to reach the combined milestones of 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career. She also ranks fifth in Big Ten history with her Nebraska school-record 279 threes, and she will likely finish fourth on that Big Ten all-time list. She ranks third in school history in career starts and will make the 125th straight in her career, which trails only 2010 All-American Kelsey Griffin’s 127 and Hooper’s best friend Lindsey Moore’s school-record 132. Hooper ranks No. 2 in career points and career rebounds at Nebraska along with her second-place status in career double-doubles. Her countdown to No. 1 on the Nebraska three-point list came with her fourth of six threes in a win over Indiana on Feb. 16.
Hooper also happens to rank No. 1 in voting for the 2014 Senior CLASS Award, and there is no award in the nation in any sport that speaks more about the impact Hooper has had on her teammates and the entire Husker women’s basketball program. An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the Senior CLASS Award honors the attributes of NCAA Division I senior student-athletes in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition.
“Jordan is one of the top scorers and rebounders in Big Ten history. She is one of the top 10 scorers and rebounders right now in all of college basketball, and she is one of the top five three-point shooters in Big Ten history. But when I think about Jordan, I think about what a great teammate she is,” Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said. “I think about how humble she is. I think about her unbelievable work ethic and how coachable she is. I think about how sometimes, I have to remind her that she is Jordan Hooper, and that she is pretty good basketball player.”
Hooper, who was a two-time Gatorade Nebraska High School Player of the Year (2008, 2010) for the Alliance Bulldogs, came to Nebraska not with the immediate hopes of All-America honors and an imminent WNBA career. Her much more immediate focus as a freshman was simple.
“I didn’t want to quit, give up and go home,” Hooper said. “I knew coming from the ranch, and a small town far away from Lincoln, it was going to be tough to adjust. I also didn’t really know if I was going to be good enough. I knew I was going to have to work really hard in school and work really hard in practice, and I also knew I had a lot of growing up to do on my own. I mean, when you’re a freshman, it is about more than basketball. You have to figure out how to make your own food and take care of yourself and that kind of stuff.”
Hooper didn’t show many growing pains. She earned Big 12 All-Freshman honors by averaging 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in her first season in 2010-11, but the Husker roster was riddled with injuries and NU finished 13-18. That season followed in the footsteps of the 2009-10 Nebraska squad that featured a six-player senior class that produced the best season in school history with a 32-2 record, a Big 12 title and the school’s first NCAA Sweet 16 bid. That team also featured an All-America forward and Senior CLASS Award winner in Kelsey Griffin, the player that Hooper had to replace.
“I was glad that I had to come in and play right away and kind of figure it out as I went,” Hooper said. “But I didn’t like losing. I didn’t like losing at all. I’m glad we kind of got that figured out the last three years. For me, the most memorable thing at Nebraska is just the entire experience of learning to win with my teammates every year, and sharing those memories. The people make the place.”
Hooper produced one of the best sophomore seasons in school history, averaging 18.9 points and 9.3 rebounds to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors for the first time. She also claimed honorable-mention All-America accolades and helped the Huskers to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament in their first-ever appearance.
Although Nebraska earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament, playing four games in four days took a toll on the young Huskers. Hooper and freshman Hailie Sample limped away with injuries and hardly practiced before playing in the NCAA first round. With Lindsey Moore, Emily Cady and Kaitlyn Burke already ailing, the Huskers came away with a first-round loss.
Hooper put up another first-team All-Big Ten and honorable-mention All-America season as a junior, averaging 17.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Playing alongside fellow All-American Moore, sophomores Cady and Sample, and freshman Rachel Theriot, the Huskers played for a share of the Big Ten title on the final day of the regular season against Penn State, but came up short.
After a shorter stay at the Big Ten Tournament, the Huskers went to College Station, Texas, where they notched two big wins, including an upset of No. 9 Texas A&M on the Aggies’ homecourt to advance to the second NCAA Sweet 16 in school history.
Now a two-time team captain and a candidate for every major national player-of-the-year award for the second straight year, Hooper is having her finest season. Not only is she averaging 20.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, she owns a career-high 33 assists and a positive assist-to-turnover ratio for the first time in her career. Her 32 turnovers are the fewest by any full-time starting post player in the Big Ten, and her shooting percentages are the highest in her career by a significant margin across the board.
“It has been such a great experience here at Nebraska,” Hooper said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Winning awards is nice and winning games is great, but none of those things are possible without the people around me. My teammates and coaches are the reasons that I have gotten better as a player. I put in a lot of work, but our coaches put in an unbelievable amount of time to make us better. As players, we all have to figure it out together. It is not about one person, it is about the team. That is why we are successful.”
The road from Alliance to Lincoln has taken her around the country and to other parts of the world. Prior to her sophomore season, the Huskers spent 10 days in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, bonding as a young team while facing international competition. That experience prepared her for the trip she made to Russia in the summer of 2013 as part of the USA Basketball World University Games Team. Hooper was a starter on a team that won gold against a Russian team that featured several 2012 Olympians.
“When I think about the places I’ve played basketball, and the places the game has taken me, it is pretty amazing,” Hooper said. “I’m just really grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had. It has been special, but it has been too short and I’m not ready for it to end yet. Not by a long shot. I want to keep playing for Nebraska, and we’re going to see if we can extend our season as long as we can. That is what we are playing for right now.”
On Thursday night, when Hooper takes the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena one more time, she is glad the Senior Night ceremony is coming after the game.
“Honestly, I’m not going to be thinking about anything except Illinois and playing another game with my teammates,” Hooper said. “After the game, I can think about the other stuff. I don’t want this to my last game at Pinnacle Bank Arena. I love it. It feels like home now. I want to get back and play some more in the NCAA Tournament, and that is what we are working to do.”