Randy York’s N-Sider
The day before her last regular-season home game as a Husker, Jordan Hooper was a one-woman media machine. The two-time All-American, two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and two-time Gatorade Nebraska High School Player of the Year from Alliance was fielding and answering questions like the seasoned veteran she’s become.
Among those attending Wednesday afternoon’s press conference in the Bob Devaney Sports Center were a Lincoln sports editor, perhaps Omaha’s two leading sports columnists, several TV stations from Lincoln and Omaha, plus the Huskers Sports Network. Play-by-play man Matt Coatney and analyst Jeff Griesch will broadcast Hooper’s regular-season curtain call as the primary honoree on Senior Night when the Huskers host Illinois in Thursday’s 7 p.m. tipoff at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Even though Hooper never has seen herself as a great basketball player, Nebraska Coach Connie Yori thinks she’s so honest, open, and unassuming that she probably ranks somewhere between a master’s degree and a doctorate in the well-honed art of interviewing.
Psychology Fascinated Hooper and Still Does
Occasionally, someone will throw Hooper a slider like this two-word question on Wednesday: “Why psychology?” It’s not that Hooper fumbled the response about her academic major at Nebraska. She was, in fact, as straightforward as ever, indicating how much she loves learning about the brain and how she doesn’t seek out other people. Pointing out that she isn’t a qualified psychologist, Hooper mentioned how much she loves the quiet life of living alone, so she can “take it all in” and not have to explain what she’s thinking about to anybody. Then she moved on to more basketball talk.
Suddenly, I couldn’t help but view this ultra-accomplished athlete, who has 2,208 career points, 1,054 rebounds, 279 three-pointers and 124 consecutive starts, in a psychological context. I mean, she’s so different than most college superstars that I wanted to dig deeper into the psychology of the iconic Jordan Hooper. So I shared some of my thoughts with Griesch, the director of Nebraska Media Relations Operations and the daily encyclopedic source for Husker women’s basketball.
Hooper ranks No. 1 in voting for the 2014 Senior CLASS Award, thanks to the enterprising Griesch and his social media teammates. Griesch believes there is no national award in any sport that speaks more about the impact Hooper has had on her teammates and the entire Husker women’s basketball program than CLASS. The acronym stands 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.
Hooper Chose Basketball over Volleyball Offer
Hooper is an interesting case study. She considered signing a National Letter of Intent to play volleyball at Nebraska for John Cook and thought about playing basketball at Wyoming or close-by Chadron (Neb.) State, where most of her high school friends were going to college. She also very seriously contemplated the idea of not going to college at all. Hooper grew up on a ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills and shared those thoughts with me Wednesday afternoon. With that background, it’s easy to connect Kelsey Griffin’s CLASS achievement with Griesch’s aggressive promotion of Hooper to win the same award four years later. Since Griffin came to Lincoln in late January to celebrate the retirement of her jersey, Nebraska has been on a roll. The Huskers have put together eight straight wins since Kelsey spoke to the team. I asked Griesch a simple question: Did Griffin’s speech to the team inspire the eight-game winning streak?
Griffin Gave Hooper, Teammates a ‘Big Boost’
“I don’t know how Jordan would answer that, but she’s had a great personal run herself since Kelsey addressed the team,” Griesch told me. “Psychologically, I think meeting Kelsey for the first time and hearing what she had to say gave Jordan – and our whole team -- a big boost. It was a great speech. It brought everyone together.” Talk about historical bookends working in tandem without knowing each other. Remember, Griffin led Nebraska to a storybook 32-2 record and NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in 2009-10. When Yori landed Hooper’s highly sought signature on a National Letter of Intent, everyone seemed to ask the same question: “Will Jordan Hooper replace Kelsey Griffin?” Every time Yori was asked, she had the same answer – no because no one can replace Kelsey Griffin. Four years later, I asked Griesch the same question: Did Hooper replace Griffin? “Yes!” he said with a big smile. I can fill in the blanks. Jordan Hooper is cut from the same All-America cloth as Kelsey Griffin. Both were and are quiet, introspective leaders who hit their greatest strides and their highest levels of success as seniors with CLASS.
Eight Straight Wins: Four Home, Four on Road
But let’s not take my word for that. Let’s ask Hooper, then Yori. Both agree. Griffin indeed has inspired Nebraska's eight straight wins in the Big Ten Conference – over Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Penn State at Pinnacle Bank Arena and against Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State on the road. Like Yori said Wednesday, a lot of things have to go right to win one Big Ten game, let alone eight in a row.
Since we got the answer we anticipated, we used the kaleidoscope approach and the psychological underpinnings of Griffin’s speech to ask Yori and Hooper to turn their own heads at a different angle, so they can see a productive season in an entirely new way.
I had to know. What did Griffin say before the Huskers hammered Michigan, 84-51 on that memorable Wednesday night on January 29th? “She just said play for each other,” Hooper said. “It really hit me that there are only so many games, and you have to play for each other because you’ll never get another team like this, or coaches like this, all on the same page, all focused on the same team.”
Suddenly, Everyone Realized the Beat Goes On
Griffin’s comments not only triggered Hooper’s emotions, but activated the private thoughts of others who could see Jordan and almost hear the clock ticking inside her heart. “You need to play for each other because it doesn’t matter if you get hurt,” Hooper said. “It doesn’t matter because that might be the last play that you ever play in basketball, so you need to go as hard as you can.”
Hooper and her teammates connected with Griffin’s double dose of wisdom and positivity. “Everybody adores Kelsey, even though we’d never met her until she came back,” Hooper said. “She told us that you can do all of this great stuff on the court, but it’s about what you do off the court. It’s about the friendships you make, and the fans that you appreciate and the people that support you. I think that’s the biggest thing that Kelsey drove home to all of us. “Kelsey honestly inspired us to play better than we’d been playing before she came back,” Hooper said. “We’d been playing a little bit selfish, a little bit within ourselves, not really giving it our all. When she kept pointing out that this would be the last time we would be playing together, it hit home, not just for me but for everyone. We all kind of took in what she was saying and still do.”
Underclassmen Know Opportunities Dwindling
Yori relished one Husker All-American lifting up another, plus those who get the chance to play with Hooper. “Kelsey focused on the opportunity,” Yori said. “She reminded everyone that you don’t get a chance to do this again. This is Jordan’s last season at Nebraska and last season in the Big Ten, and this is everyone else’s last chance to play with her.”
Hooper is “one of the top 10 scorers and rebounders right now in all of college basketball, and she’s one of the top five three-point shooters in Big Ten history,” Yori said. “When I think about Jordan, I think about what a great teammate she is. 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’s Jordan Hooper, and that she really is a pretty good basketball player.”
To this day, Hooper “just doesn’t think of herself as being a great player,” Yori said. But as the woman who recruited Jordan and convinced her to strive for the same standards of excellence, Yori knows better. Hooper has done a world-class job without the competitive benefit of AAU competition in high school. A psychology major, she will continue to look ahead and not behind. So here’s hoping that Jordan Hooper will achieve the same CLASS status that Griffin reached and get the opportunity to play in an NCAA Regional Tournament in an arena that Kelsey, a prime-time motivator, helped build.
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Voices from Husker Nation
Great story! We in Western Nebraska really appreciate how well Jordan Hooper represents all of us, on and off the court. She helped youngsters at the Alliance YMCA any time she was in the building, whether it was organized or not. I was an assistant coach at Gering and saw how hard she worked at being a “team” player, even as a freshman. Anyone who saw Jordan play at that level knew she was special and would be one to watch. Having coached women's basketball in Nebraska for more than 30 years, I just get “goosebumps” watching this year's Husker team! What a job Connie Yori is doing! And what a great senior leader Jordan has been! Larry Randolph, Minatare, Nebraska
Excellent article Randy. True, there will never be another Jordan Hooper either in Alliance or at the University of Nebraska. There will be other great players but not one with her humble and unique background or one that (Alliance's own) Steve Brew took under his tutelage. Jordan will be missed but she certainly has made Alliance and Nebraska proud. Chas Lierk, Alliance, Nebraska
Great article, Randy! While it is tempting for me to add thousands of words about Jordan Hooper to your story, I choose to offer only a heartfelt few. Jordan Hooper is Alliance, Nebraska's greatest ambassador. Kevin Horn, President, Alliance Chamber of Commerce