Randy York’s N-Sider
“Jordan Hooper...from Alliance, Nebraska...Wow!” – Doris Burke, ESPN Basketball Analyst
This is more an editorial than a column, and it is written with definitive bias because Jordan Hooper and I share the same hometown – Alliance, Nebraska. This postseason piece begins with a comment from Doris Burke, ESPN’s well-respected broadcaster who was the analyst for BYU’s 80-76 win over Nebraska Monday night on national television. Most of us know what the stakes were for this particular NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament matchup in Los Angeles – a Sweet 16 date with Connecticut, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed and now 36-0 after the eight-time national champions beat No. 9 seed St. Joseph’s, 91-52, Tuesday night. The win advanced Connecticut to a rare landing strip on college basketball’s newest map – the Lincoln Regional, home of Pinnacle Bank Arena, where the Husker women were 16-2 this season and the Nebraska men 15-1.
Wow: A Word That Echoes Four Consecutive Years
Doris Burke knew everything that was on the line Monday night. She also understood the matchup issues because she does her homework. Burke informally carries the title of Ms. Basketball at ESPN, largely because of her constant crossover assignments between NBA and college men’s and women’s basketball games. Notice I said NBA, not WNBA. Burke is a studio analyst for NBA Countdown, a high-profile gig, and even though she’s never at a loss for words, she paused Monday night, and settled on one word, Wow!, to describe Jordan Hooper. It was a national Wow that echoes four consecutive seasons of statewide Wows, Big 12 Wows and Big Ten Wows.
It’s hard to imagine everything going through Burke’s mind when she made that simple comment, but I think I know why she’d say Wow and stop there. The way Burke researches, she had to know how Hooper lived on a ranch 36 miles from Alliance and attended a one-room schoolhouse with her brother before making the drive to a 126-year-old railroad town in the Nebraska Panhandle. Burke also had to know that unlike 99 percent of college basketball’s elite players, Hooper stayed home on the range instead of traveling all over every weekend to play AAU basketball.
Legacy: Old-Fashioned Standards, Nebraska Values
Jordan Hooper is a rare commodity in a Division I world. Her legacy at Nebraska goes well beyond her bushel of points and stacks of rebounds, her Wooden Award Finalist and Senior CLASS Award Finalist honors, and her Wade and Naismith Trophy candidacies. Her legacy supersedes being an All-American or the Big Ten Conference Player of the Year, not to mention her selection to the USA Basketball World University Games Team that won the Gold Medal in Russia.
Hooper’s legacy is built on old-fashioned standards and Nebraska values. In my mind, you can come up with all kinds of words that describe the life and times and the kindred spirit of Jordan Hooper. But if I were in a game show and had to boil down the three words that define Jordan best, I would start with character and move straight to perspective that is so unique that few collegiate student-athletes have anything remotely similar. Then I’d wrap it all up with a word that Hooper never let get away from her as the honors multiplied and the pressure mounted. That word is fun and for emphasis, I would spell F-U-N! using all capital letters and include an exclamation point, so it can stand right up there alongside Doris Burke’s W-O-W!
More than 2,300 Points, More than 1,100 Rebounds
In her final game as a Husker, Hooper scored 20 points and grabbed four rebounds to finish her career as the only Husker in history to score more than 2,300 points (2,357) and grab more than 1,100 rebounds (1,110). She also scored more points (102), grabbed more rebounds (55) and hit more threes (13) in NCAA Tournament play than any other Husker in history. Even though Monday’s loss ended Nebraska’s 26-7 Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship season, it included more kudos for the only senior on the Husker team. “Jordan’s a leader. She’s been this kind of person for us all four years,” Nebraska Coach Connie Yori said. “Not one time in four years have I had to question Jordan on her character or her work ethic.”
Junior Tear'a Laudermill led the Huskers with 22 points, including 12 in the last two minutes and 17 seconds to give Nebraska a chance to win down the stretch. Asked what Hooper meant to the team, the Californian went straight to Hooper's strength. “She has perfect character,” Laudermill said. “She’s just a great person, so humble. We’re like a family. We do a lot together. We’re really going to miss Hooper.” Fellow three-year starter Hailie Sample agreed. “Hoop is like everybody’s best friend,” Sample said after the loss. “It’s really sad. I’m going to miss her a lot. We’re like a family, so it’s hard to see someone go. I’m so glad and thankful and blessed we got to play together for three years.”
Grit, Tenacity Become Byproducts of Character
Hooper was proud of the character, the grit and the tenacity that her teammates showed in the loss. She said the climb back from a 17-point deficit was fun, even if it did fall short. She did not mention that the character, grit and tenacity were characteristics she helped to instill in her teammates. Check out the postgame photos and videos. They’ll show grown women who aren’t shy about laughing and crying almost at the same time. It’s all part of the verve and the vitality that Hooper leaves for a program she helped strengthen mightily. I have no doubt that her legendary energy will be blended into the fuel the Huskers will have in 2014-15 when Yori and her staff welcome a five-player recruiting class they already have called the best in school history. While the Huskers gear up for another record run, Hooper will take on her next challenge – the WNBA – with the same character and the same perspective she used to become what she is today – a future Hall-of-Famer taking life one fun step at a time. When Hooper was asked in LA about BYU playing in the Huskers’ home arena this weekend, she admitted "It will definitely hurt not being out there one last time." But get this: “I’ll be rooting for BYU,” she said.
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Voices from Husker Nation
Thank you for your story that had a "definitive bias" about Alliance, Nebraska's greatest ambassador! Kevin Horn, President, Alliance Chamber of Commerce
I have lived in Alliance all my life, played high school basketball in Alliance, and actually played a few pickup basketball games with Amy Stephens back in the day between college years. I also played a lot of city league ball with Jordan’s uncles, Matt and Lance Brennan. They always say “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, and this is the absolute truth. The whole family is the way Jordan is. She has been brought up in what I call “the right way”. She has had all of these things you write about instilled in her throughout her life by her whole family. She was so fun to watch through her high school and college years. My niece, Jessica Mills, was a senior when Jordan was a freshman and that was the year Alliance won the state tournament. What a ride that was. Jordan is the young lady you always wish your kids would model after, and not just through sports, but through life. I hate to see her done with college basketball and hope to see her on TV in the future in the WNBA. Thanks for all the articles you have written throughout the years and good luck to Jordan Hooper in her future. Jeff Mills, Alliance, Nebraska
I love following Nebraska through your columns. There is some sentiment through many Alliance connections, including family, the newspaper, and shooting hoops. Jordan Hooper’s Aunt Carol was a classmate and friend. The Hooper family values are reflected with Jordan joining in on a branding at the Hooper ranch – a testament to who she is. Your column was superb and brought back memories of Amy Stephens, who put women's basketball on the map in Alliance. The written word is an art and you perfected it with this column. Jim Kamerzell, Oro Valley, Arizona
Jordan Hooper...a great young woman, a great representative for the state, a great representative for the university, a great example of the value of a strong family, and, by the way, a great basketball player. I can't end without mentioning Coach Yori and the obviously great staff! The players all seem to reflect the high character of the coaches, staff, and program! The obvious love the players have for each other and the love the staff has for the players is, in my opinion, a big reason for the success that comes to the program. Win or lose, I commend the coaches, all the staff, the players and the University of Nebraska. Keep recruiting high character young women and GBR! John Thomason, Creighton, Nebraska
It has been an amazing eight years watching Jordan Hooper play basketball! Thanks for all the fun memories! Jill Tolstedt, Alliance, Nebraska
I'm an Alliance native and an RN in the operating room at Immanuel Medical Center and just wanted to send you a note that I've enjoyed reading your columns over the years. Keep on writing! Vicki (Sturgeon) Werth, Omaha, Nebraska
This one gave me some tears. Thanks, Jordan. You will be missed! Sara Schory Messersmith, Alliance, Nebraska
Very nice article you wrote about Jordan. Thanks. Steve "Smitty" Smith, AHS Class of '64, Alliance, Nebraska
Great gal and basketball player and great article. Congrats to both Jordan and Randy. Larry and Jean Matthesen, Alliance, Nebraska
Congratulations to Jordan on an inspiring eight years of basketball and to her parents and coaches! Jane McConkey, Alliance, Nebraska
Fantastic article! Very well put. Charlie Krantz, Alliance, Nebraska