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Jordan Hooper grew up in the Nebraska Sandhills near Alliance. Omaha World-Herald Photo.
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
          Release: 05/04/2014
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Hooper's Amazing Journey to WNBA Shock

 Randy York's N-Sider

When the 12-team Women’s National Basketball Association drafts talented collegiate female athletes and invests in promising role models with celebrity potential, I am declaring that only one prospect ever has emerged from the Nebraska Sandhills. I am just as certain that Jordan Hooper, who will graduate Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology, is equally intriguing in another way. She will become the only WNBA or NBA player who learned the game that James Naismith invented from a longtime Nebraska Panhandle railroader, who also happened to be an Elvis impersonator.

The late Steve Brew, who died in his sleep at age 54 in 2007, was the man behind Hooper’s amazing journey to the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock. He discovered her in first grade and taught Hooper the fundamentals of the game in the earliest stages of elementary school. If Brew had not come into Hooper’s life when he did, Jordan does not believe she would have reported to Tulsa, taken her official physical and then established her first bit of WBNA notoriety in a 2½-hour training camp session with the Tulsa Shock. Before Hooper left Lincoln, I was curious to know if the Husker Elvis story was true or if certain people in Alliance were exaggerating. “Ask my mom (Jodene Hooper). She gives Steve Brew all the credit for teaching me everything,” Jordan said with a big smile. Somehow, I read Nebraska’s legendary All-American wrong when she laughed at her own answer.
Hooper Gives Brew All the Credit in the World
 
So Brew must not have played that big a role, right? Wrong. “I give Steve Brew all the credit in the world, too,” Hooper said. “He’s the one who discovered me. If he hadn’t gotten me going in basketball that early and had waited to ask me to play when I was in middle school, I would not have had the same skills. I definitely give him all the credit for asking me to play and teaching me the game as a little girl.” Here’s an even bigger kicker: Hooper’s first exposure to basketball was in a one-room schoolhouse on a ranch where her parents lived, 36 miles from Alliance, Neb. “There were only four of us and that included Kyle, my younger brother,” she recalled. “We were at a graduation party, and I don’t even remember who was graduating. We were just playing basketball for a while and got bored. I was in first grade and wanted to play hide-and-seek. When we left the basketball court, Steve Brew came over to my mom and said he’d like me to come into town sometime, so he could coach me in Alliance and I could play on a traveling team in a little girls’ league called Wyo-Nebraska."
This Husker Elvis Had Keen Eye for Talent
 
Brew knew that Hooper’s mom would drive to Alliance and thought maybe Jordan could learn the game and play in a league with older kids because he could see some natural skill sets. Brew’s team included kids from Alliance St. Agnes Academy. “Steve worked for the railroad, so he had two jobs and loved to coach as a past time,” Hooper said. “He told my mom to bring me into town when I just starting first grade so I could play with the fourth-graders. We didn’t have a house in town so we would drive to Alliance where I could practice after school. Mom or dad would take me into town. Kyle was two years younger so he would just go to mom’s work while I’d hang out for a while and play basketball.”
 
Hooper enjoyed showing up earlier than everyone else because her mom had to get back to work. Whenever practice started, she would be 10 to 15 minutes earlier than the older kids she played against. Brew would encourage her to shoot during that bonus time without specific instruction. “He encouraged me and just said I had a pretty good shot already, so keep working on it,” she recalled. Brother Kyle showed little interest in basketball at that age, so even as a third-grader, Jordan found fun where her brother didn’t. “I’d go into town and shoot around and have fun doing it,” Jordan remembered. “Steve was always telling us how good it was to learn the game early so I could develop faster. I still remember one of the first things he said to my mom when she would drop me off early. He’d say: ‘We’ll have Jordan dunking in no time’ and we all laughed then and still laugh now because that still hasn’t happened.”
She Can Dunk a Tennis Ball and a Volleyball
 
Let the record show that a 6-foot-2 Jordan Hooper has dunked a tennis ball and a volleyball, but never has she slammed a basketball home, nor does she list that among her things to accomplish list. “I’ve kind of stopped trying,” she told me. “I came in just knowing how to shoot mostly and that’s all I knew. Steve Brew taught me footwork and hand positioning on the seams. He taught me quite a lot of what I know, actually.”
 
Hooper played for Brew through sixth grade, and that’s when she realized how advanced her skill sets were beyond her peers. “I played basketball all the time in grade school,” she said. “When I got to seventh-grade, it wasn’t as much fun because it just wasn’t challenging. It was really easy for me to score and to steal the ball and score. It was really no fun at all because Steve had coached me up so much, there wasn’t any competition.”
 
Now that Jordan Hooper is on a WNBA roster, she is in comfortable territory, thinking everyone is way ahead of her. Perhaps that’s why she put on a show a week ago last Sunday when about 200 Tulsa Shock season ticket holders watched the team’s opening day of training camp. The Nebraska rookie “gave them something to cheer about,” Tulsa World sportswriter Mike Brown wrote in his lead paragraph after watching Coach Fred Williams put his team through its first workout.
Hooper Shared Spotlight with Sims, Diggins
 
Tulsa fans stood and cheered when the Shock came out of the tunnel. While Hooper grabbed the biggest local headlines, rookie guard Odyssey Sims and second-year guard Skylar Diggins shared the spotlight. Sims, the 2014 No. 2 overall draft selection, was the Shock’s first-round choice. Hooper was the first pick in the second-round.
 
Joining Tulsa in the 17-year-old WNBA are the Atlanta Dream, Chicago Sky, Indiana Fever, Los Angeles Sparks, Connecticut Sun, Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury, Seattle Storm, San Antonio Stars, and Washington (D.C.) Mystics. Cities that tried the WNBA but failed to sustain success are Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit (which was prosperous from 1998-2007 but moved to Tulsa), Houston, Orlando (which moved to Connecticut), Miami, Portland, and Utah (which moved to San Antonio). We provide that history lesson because Hooper herself still can’t quite grasp the professional life she’s pursuing because, well, how shall we put this? She never really thought much about the WNBA until her Nebraska career ended last month in the NCAA Tournament at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the home base for the Sparks.
Five Interesting Facts about Jordan Hooper

Check Jordan's bio on Huskers.com. Near the end are five facts, none of which are likely to be found on any other WNBA player roster: 1) Jordan can juggle (even if she can't dunk); 2) Jordan loves hot dogs (even though she's never been one); 3) Jordan eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before every game (kind of like Elvis did before his performances, only his sandwiches were peanut butter and banana); 4) Jordan participated in 4-H for three years (just like thousands of other Nebraskans); and 5) Jordan and younger brother Kyle saved their own money to pay for a 25-by-50 foot concrete slab so they could practice basketball at their ranch. To get a three-point line, the slab covered up their grandma Dorothy's garden. No wonder Jordan made 295 three-point shots at Nebraska – 67 as a freshman, 67 as a sophomore, 81 as a junior and 80 as a senior (choosing, we assume, an assist over one last howitzer). Jordan Hooper is much more than the numbers she put up in the Big 12 Conference and then the Big Ten, and those numbers reflect the body of work you'd expect from a consummate pro.
 
Jordan Hooper's Career Statistics

Year

G-GS

FG-FGA

Pct.

3P-3PA

Pct.

FT-FTA

Pct.

TRB-Avg.

PF-D

A

TO

Blk

ST

Pts-Avg.

2010-11 31-31 162-447 .362 67-184 .364 63-86 .733 205-6.6 74-0 10 43 16 24 454-14.6
2011-12 33-33 207-522 .397 67-210 .319 143-183 .781 306-9.3 55-0 15 63 23 29 624-18.9
2012-13 34-34 215-537 .400 81-242 .335 96-117 .821 300-8.8 44-0 22 44 18 36 607-17.9
2013-14 33-33 233-533 .437 80-222 .364 126-157 .803 299-9.1 59-0 40 42 17 33 672-20.4

Career

131-131

817-2,039

.401

295-858

.340

428-543

.788

1,110-8.5

232-0

87

192

74

122

2,357-18.0

What If Brew Never Saw Hooper as Hoopster?
 
Hooper, in fact, is just now seeing herself as a professional player. Even though it’s a far cry from a Wyo-Nebraska elementary league, she truly believes that if her mom hadn’t talked to Steve Brew, basketball probably never would have been a big deal to a girl growing up on a ranch about 45 minutes northeast of Alliance, where Brian Hooper, her father, was a fourth-generation rancher with 7,000 acres of land in Sheridan County. “My dad wanted me to get started in AAU and kind of pushed me a little bit more,” Hooper recalled, “but I put my foot down. I wanted my summers to be mine and wanted to enjoy my life. I decided if colleges don’t want me, they don’t want me, so I’ll just deal with that when I get older. That was kind of my attitude. Maybe that was the wrong attitude, but I think it worked out okay for me.”
 
Basketball has never burned out Jordan Hooper, and she admits she’s just now getting into the rhythm of envisioning herself as a pro player, so her level of excitement has soared with every sunup and sundown. After a bit of downer when she wasn’t drafted in the first round, “my mindset right now is I'm very excited,” she told me before leaving for Tulsa. “I’m just trying to stay in shape and work really hard so I can get on the team. I'm very grateful and really excited for the opportunity to try and make the roster.”
She Finally Can See Basketball Driving Her Life

Hooper was so focused at Nebraska, she refused to look past college. “I enjoyed college a lot, but I didn’t want to miss out on anything,” she said. “I wanted to take in one game at a time and not worry about my future or life after basketball. When college basketball was over and I finally looked at my future, I got excited because I could see it becoming my life, even though I didn’t give it much thought before that.” Fortunately, Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsey Moore, Hooper’s former Husker teammate and close personal friend, helped ignite the spark, especially when Hooper was questioning her ability to make it in the WNBA. “Linds thinks I can be really good. She just thinks I need more confidence in myself,” Hooper said. “It’s true. I know I can do anything I want to do. I just need to go out there and prove it.” Hooper said the WNBA is “very nerve wracking because you’re in a situation knowing that just because you got drafted doesn’t mean you make the team,” she said. “It’s not set in stone that I make this team. That's what makes it so nerve wracking. The USA experience I had last summer definitely helped because at least now I know what I’m getting into. I have to be myself, try my best and perform at my highest level.”
Steve Brew Was One Popular Man in Alliance
 
That’s all Jordan Hooper can ask for...and all she needed last Sunday to steal the show on her very first day as a WNBA rookie. Somewhere, up there, over a glorious Sandhills sunset, is a very proud railroader/Elvis impersonator who had enough vision to launch a little ranch-girl/grade-schooler on a path that would enable her to play basketball against the best women players in the world. How do I know? Because Steve Brew was a close friend of my late father, and the two would exchange Christmas gifts, even though they were at least four decades apart in age. Many Alliance residents believe Brew’s funeral of 800 people in a church that could accommodate only 500, was the largest funeral in Alliance history. People actually stood in the aisles and tributes ranged from a 12-year-old basketball player he once coached to an 89-year-old man who was motivated by Brew, just like Hooper, her parents and my own father. For years, three of Brew’s brothers – Larry, Ron and Gerry –  joined Steve as a Husker Elvis at Nebraska games in Lincoln and on the road. They defined Steve’s life by his love, friendship, and heroic effort that saved the life of a 6-year-old girl who was the lone survivor of a train/car accident that claimed the lives of the rest of her family. Seventeen years later, the girl, still touched by a poem Brew wrote to honor her and her family, shared that poem at his funeral.
Brew, Larry the Cable Guy, Hooper Git’R’Done
 
Dan Whitney, a.k.a. Larry the Cable Guy, loved to stop, talk, laugh, and pose for a photo with Steve and his fellow Elvis-impersonating brothers. So did Husker fans across the country. Steve Brew was loved as a husband, father, brother, coach, friend and Big Red fans everywhere. His brothers called him George Bailey because he loved his hometown so much, he never moved, just like the Jimmy Stewart character in It’s a Wonderful Life. Isn’t it interesting how a little girl who grew up on a ranch deep in the Nebraska Sandhills and attended a one-room schoolhouse is now extolling the virtues of an Alliance native who liked to live, love, laugh and leave a legacy? Yes, Steve Brew, railroader/Elvis impersonator/humanitarian, shares something special with a comedic superstar and a Husker All-American. All three truly knew how to Git’R’Done.
 
Send a comment to ryork@huskers.com (Include city, state)
 
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Voices from Husker Nation

Steve Brew was a great man. When I graduated from Chadron State College in 1991, Steve was an engineer on the BN Railroad. I worked afternoons and went down to the old city auditorium every morning so I could and play basketball with all the engineers and conductors that just got in from a trip or were waiting to go out on a trip.  Steve was a good player and one of the best passers around. I learned quickly when making cuts to the basket that you never turned your back to Steve when he had the ball. If you did, you would be wearing it.  Everyone loved Steve. Towards the end of his pickup basketball career, he had already torn both Achilles and would still come down at times and watch the pickup games because he loved the game and loved to teach and coach the game.  I will guarantee he is smiling right now watching all the kids he has coached become successful in life. Jeff Mills, Alliance, Nebraska

Thanks so much for sharing Jordan's thoughts on Steve Brew! Steve had an incredibly positive impact on many Alliance young people during his years as a basketball coach and Jordan said it best on her own Facebook page: “Randy did a great job. I owe a lot to Steve Brew and I hope I am making him proud! I am having a great time at training camp and still trying my best every day and making the most of every opportunity presented.” What an ambassador she is not only for Alliance, but for the entire state of Nebraska! Kevin Horn, President, Alliance Chamber of Commerce

Just read your piece about Jordan Hooper and Steve Brew. I am from Alliance and Steve was the same mentor to me as he was with Jordan. I just didn't have the talent. Steve was real close to our family, close enough that the Husker Elvises made an appearance at my rehearsal dinner. I’m a proud Alliance native and tell everyone here in Omaha what a great place it is. No one quite realizes the amount of athletic and   intellectual talent that comes from Alliance. Thanks for a great piece. I will always remember Steve’s three-word answer anytime someone would ask How you doing? "Living the dream!” Jason Roberts, Elkhorn, Nebraska

The Jordan Hooper/Steve Brew story brought a tear to my eye. I still miss Steve, and am sending this video of the Brew Brothers collaborating with Larry the Cable Guy to show how much fun they had being Husker Elvis impersonators. Dan Whitney (Larry the Cable Guy) was inducted into their act as the official Sergeant at Arms. David Max, Irvine, California

Thanks for the very nice article on Steve and Jordan. Steve loved having fun and enjoying life to its fullest. I’ve said before that he has the best seat in the house at each game, looking down from heaven and high-5ing everyone whenever Jordan hits a three-pointer. We miss Steve dearly but smile, cry and cheer at Jordan’s huge success as a player and as a person. The Husker Elvises are coming to Lincoln for the Miami game and heading to Chicago for the Northwestern game. We have fun dressing up like Elvis but our theme song for Western Nebraska is our remake of John Denver’s Country Road. Gerry plays the guitar and Ron and I sing. We have a blast. Husker fans get a big kick out of what we do, and everyone misses Steve. Huskers forever!  Larry Brew, Loveland, Colorado

Loved your article. I coached against Jordan and have followed her through college and am glad so many games were shown on television. Jordan is just a fantastic player and person. If I remember correctly, she scored 40 points by herself when we played them and never once was "cocky” or a “showoff". I hope I get to watch her play as a Shocker in Tulsa. Go Hooper! Michelle “Shellmo” Benben, Gordon, Nebraska

Thank you for another great job of reporting. I forwarded the Jordan Hooper story to my family in New York and got an immediate response from my oldest daughter. Doug and Mary Edwards, Hastings, Nebraska

What beautiful memories you have brought back for me. I bought Steve's grandfather’s house just down a couple blocks on Box Butte Ave. Steve was remodeling his new place and I was busy building a radio business in Alliance. Steve was never too busy to give me a graceful word. By the way, the empty lot next to his last place is where we attempted many heroic athletic attempts. Jim Kamerzell, Oro Valley, Arizona

Love reading your posts and especially enjoy the ones about Jordan. Mary Schadwinkel, Alliance, Nebraska

I never thought I’d be excited about professional women’s basketball, but after watching Hooper on the Big Ten Network, I’m interested in following her in the WNBA. Would love to see their schedule and what kind of prices tickets are. Jim Hanson, Dallas, Texas Editor’s note: Here’s the Tulsa Shock schedule and here's Ticket Central, which gives you nine options. For good measure, here’s the Shock roster that includes two Big Ten players, Jordan and Penn State rookie forward Ariel Edwards. Tulsa’s head coach is Fred Williams. Like Hooper and Edwards, Williams is in his first season with the Shock.

I really enjoyed your article on Jordan Hooper and Steve Brew. I've known Larry, Ron and Gerry Brew since 2008. Steve had already passed by then and I wish that I would have had the opportunity to meet him. Better yet, I wish that he was still around but when it's your time to go you go, even when it's way too early. Larry has told me how I really would have liked Steve and from what I have read it sounds like everyone liked Steve. Keep up the great work. Marv Clausen, Parker, Colorado

 

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