LINCOLN — The Jordan Hooper legacy can't be found in mere points or rebounds or victories. Maybe it's in a phone call.
“I get a phone call from a guy the other day,” says Nebraska women's basketball coach Connie Yori, “who says, 'Can I bring my third-grade daughter up to learn how to shoot free throws from Jordan?' ”
This is a great story, and it's even better the way Yori tells it. Yori told the guy that her senior forward was a little busy. But there's a look on Yori's face that says, why doesn't everybody think of that?
“If we allowed every kid to do that, she (Hooper) probably wouldn't have time to do anything,” Yori said. “I just chuckle. She's a celebrity.”
And maybe that's the Hooper legacy. Here's arguably the best women's basketball player to come out of the state of Nebraska. But her status is not so lofty that a father is afraid to call up and ask for a personal session with his kid.
“There are people who are Jordan Hooper crazy out there,” Yori said. “These little girls, they just love Jordan Hooper.
“It's amazing how many times I get questions about her in public: 'My cousin has Jordan Hooper's birthday.' 'My little sister met Jordan Hooper.' She's really kind of a celebrity, and yet she doesn't act like it. Unlike some kids, it hasn't gone to her head. I really appreciate that.”
It could be the state of Nebraska girls high school basketball. It's better. Yori says it's at an all-time high. There are more Division I recruits than ever. Nebraska girls are playing basketball. Yori says Hooper “has a small part in that in her own way.”
But it's a large stamp, in this way: Hooper was the biggest name in the state to very publicly choose Nebraska basketball over Nebraska volleyball. That was rare. And certainly some girls took notice.
She did it because basketball was her first love. That choice is as big a part of the footprint she leaves as anything. It validated what Yori was building. It allowed a lot of folks to buy in.
“Jordan has opened the eyes of the girls in this state that it's cool to play basketball,” Yori said.
She changed Nebraska, but the place changed her, too. Hooper's hometown is listed as Alliance, but actually, she says, she grew up on a ranch “36 miles or 45 minutes” from Alliance.
When Hooper arrived in Lincoln four years ago, she saw things she had never seen. There's a movie script in here somewhere.
“You talk about a kid from small-town Nebraska,” Yori said. “The old story is that, for 10 years, her and her brother were in a one-room schoolhouse together. You talk about a kid from very much a rural situation.
“Her dad sent me an email the other day telling me how much she's grown. This was a big deal, to come to the big city of Lincoln. When you're living in Alliance, Nebraska, there's not a lot of diversity. This was a different mix of people. Her ability to handle change was better than I thought it would be. I thought it would come down to Chadron State and Nebraska, and I thought she might go there. I also thought she might come here and get homesick and go home.”
Some people have counted the points, 2,208 of them, or the rebounds, 1,054. But for a long time the most impressive total in Hooper's mind was the number of people in Lincoln.
“The first thing I noticed was just the streets,” she said. “The amount of traffic there was — that was a big deal. There aren't a lot of people here, and yet there are.
“Having to be on my own and make food for myself, that was exciting. It was a big change. Lot of cereal and peanut butter and jelly.”
Since then she's been to East Lansing and Columbus, Sweden and Denmark, Nashville and Russia. She's grown into a confident young woman on and off the court. What would Hooper the freshman have thought?
“I think she would not believe it,” said Hooper the senior. “I think I would be pretty surprised how far I've come.”
This legacy won't be about what happens after graduation day. Hooper might or might not play in the WNBA. She certainly looks the part, and though she says she wants to try the next level, she allows it might be for only a year.
But this is a legacy that could most definitely be shaped by what happens in the next several weeks. If NU can win its last two games, that's at least a share of the Big Ten championship.
And then there's the month of March and the carrot that hangs within reach, waiting to be plucked: The NCAA regional is set for Pinnacle Bank Arena. As the host, Nebraska will have the chance to win its way there.
And play on its home court to go to the Final Four.
Great players are often measured by great accomplishments. And even though Hooper already belongs with names like Maurtice Ivy, Kelsey Griffin and Karen Jennings, helping lead Nebraska to a Final Four would transform her name into something larger.
“It's really neat and special that they gave us the regionals here, but I haven't really thought about the Final Four,” Hooper said. “To be one of those players, it would be awesome, to say I was on that team.”
Tonight she waves goodbye to the home crowd — perhaps until that regional — and there will be family and friends and loud ovations. But it's quite possible that this fairy tale ending is only the beginning of her accomplishments.
Because there's a dad out there who wants his third-grader to play like Jordan. And there's a Nebraska girl who could jump over the net for John Cook but would rather jump center for Connie Yori. And no doubt there's a small-town girl who wonders if she can cut it at the big state university, but might give it a try knowing how the girl from the western Nebraska ranch came out on the other side.
What I'm saying is, Jordan Hooper is the greatest women's basketball player from the state of Nebraska. Until the next one.
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Video: Last hurrah for Hooper