It’s Sunday and your team has just crushed Illinois by 19 points in Champaign. You’re happy and you know it, but it’s really hard to show it because you’re tired, worn out and need to hit the refresh button fast. Why? Because spring-semester classes begin the next morning and you need to rejuvenate and recalibrate. You’re on an airplane that will arrive in Lincoln at 6 p.m. and suddenly, reality bites – Nebraska’s semi-annual all-student-athlete meeting will begin at 8 o’clock that night at the renovated Devaney Center. Forget the good night and good luck factor. Get back home, grab a quick bite and prepare yourself mentally to listen for an hour to a man who wrote The Energy Bus, a New York Times best-seller and a positively charged staple in Jon Gordon’s motivational arsenal.
Now it’s Tuesday, and I’m diplomatic enough not to ask Jordan Hooper, a senior All-America forward from Alliance, Nebraska, a negative question, especially after she has just supplanted another Alliance native, Amy Stephens – her childhood hero – as the No. 4 all-time leading scorer in Husker women’s basketball history. Hooper’s 1,990 career points now trail only No. 1 Karen Jennings (2,405 from 1990-93), No. 2 Maurtice Ivy (2,131 from 1985-88) and No. 3 Kelsey Griffin (2,033 from 2006-2010).
Diplomacy is a respectful approach, but here’s the deal: Jordan Hooper, a starter on the USA’s World University Games gold medal team in Russia last summer, did not need compassion. She drove to her house last Sunday evening, ate a bowl of chicken noodle soup and then headed to her home away from home – the Devaney Center, where she sat down with her teammates and soaked in every ounce of energy that Jon Gordon was sharing. “His message was great,” Hooper said. “I’m glad I went and I’m glad I heard it because he was spot on.”
Rejuvenated Yori Praises Gordon’s Motivation
The 2010 National Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year and the reigning Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year agreed with her superstar’s assessment. “Our staff all went to hear Jon Gordon the next morning,” Connie Yori said. “When I left that meeting, I felt rejuvenated. It was awesome. Jon is one of the best speakers, if not the best speaker, we’ve ever had here.”
Talk about timing. Big Ten Conference basketball is already a grind, and the No. 16-ranked Huskers will host Minnesota Thursday night at 8 in a nationally televised game at Pinnacle Bank Arena. It’s only the fourth of 16 conference games this season. But Hooper and Yori are at a point where they need extra energy, and when Gordon came to town, he gave both booster shots of energy and confidence and a chance to clear their minds with motivation and wisdom.
“I thought it was cool when he (Gordon) told us that he was negative until he reached his 30s,” Hooper said. “I’m not the most positive person on this planet at all, but he had my attention. I’m sure many people would tell you that I’m not positive at all, but I try to be and I learned some things from the speaker that will help me do what I haven’t been able to do.”
One-Word Mission Statements Can Be Compelling
Like what? “Simple things, like concentrate on one word that I can use every day for personal motivation,” she said. “He (Gordon) challenged us to come up with one word that can help us get better every day. If you put that one word at the top of your mind and work hard to achieve it, you can accomplish your goal.”
I asked Hooper if any one word had surfaced yet for her. “Not really,” she said. “I’ve thought of a lot of different words that would help me and make sense, but I’m not going to finalize my word until this weekend. Our whole team is taking this process seriously. Nobody wants to reveal their word yet, but everybody’s really working hard at deciding which word will help them the most. Even though it’s a fairly simple exercise, I think every player on this team wants to get better, and I think this kind of mindset will help.”
So what’s the leading word at this juncture for Hooper? “Care,” she said quickly. “I need to care more about everything around me and not just school and basketball. I’m like everyone else. I want to make sure the word I choose is going to carry me through the rest of the season and is going to help the team. Jon Gordon told us it’s never too late to change your ways, and it’s never too late to change who you are.”
Hooper Respects Gordon’s Honesty, Commitment
“He was very honest when he told us about his wife telling him that if he didn’t change, they were done,” Hooper pointed out. “I don’t know if I could change with an ultimatum like that. But if you love somebody that much and care that much, you can do it. I just respect the man so much for being so honest. I think he motivated everybody who heard him.”
Yori agrees. “It’s funny,” she said. “When Jon Gordon was up there talking Monday, I kept thinking ‘That’s me! That’s me!! Man, that’s me!!!’ after everything he said. I was talking to our staff after his presentation, and we were all saying the same thing – ‘Wow! That’s us!!’ We could do this better and we could do that better, and it’s always good when someone reminds you about what’s really important. Why are we doing this? It’s all supposed to be about the student-athletes, and we all discussed that for a long time. Every one of us gets stressed out, and Jon’s presentation was excellent.”
I can’t resist asking Yori if she’s come up with her own one-word mission statement for 2014. “It’s not official. Do I have to share it?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, “but I am interested in whatever way you might be leaning.”
Yori’s Joy + Hooper’s Care = Competitive Approach
“I think my word is going to be joy,” Yori said. “I want to remember all of the little things and why we’re doing what we do…it really is all about the student-athletes, and I’m glad someone reminded us of that. We need that mindset as we finish the season.”
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