Even after three seasons of basketball at Nebraska, Jordan Hooper is a mystery to her closest friends on the team.

They don’t understand that down deep, Hooper is a little kid who loves to play basketball.

They don't know that she needed incentives to become the shooter she is now.

Some don’t understand how she can drive past roadkill on the highway.

First, the kid.

“No scouting reports. No game films. No practices. Just playing basketball, the way we all learned to play,” said Hooper, a two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection.

The Husker junior will have to take over Saturday in NU's 5:30 p.m. NCAA Tournament first-round game against Tennessee-Chattanooga. If NU wins, the Huskers face the winner of the Wichita State-Texas A&M game.

“I know this is a much higher level of play and film sessions can actually be fun and learning all the strategies is fun, too,” Hooper said. “But there’s a little part of me that says, ‘Take the ball out and pass and shoot and play.’”

Hooper has plenty of honors and receives a raft of respect. She is a six-time Big Ten player of the week, a member of the WBCA all-region team, Big Ten All-Tournament team, set NU's sophomore scoring record, has recorded 25 double-doubles and attracts the attention of every opponent.

She leads Nebraska in scoring for the second consecutive season at 18 points per game and is tops on the team in rebounding at 8.7 per game.

Hooper has taken 171 more shots and made 44 more than anybody else on the team. She leads the team in three-pointers, with 25 more than any other Husker.

Hooper’s play, especially her offensive abilities, earned praise from Big Ten coaches.

“She is hard to match up and hard to stop,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said.

Penn State coach Coquese Washington piled on with, “Hooper and (senior Lindsey) Moore are two of the best in the conference and in the country.”

Chattanooga coach Wes Moore said 20 hours of film of NU games have him scratching his head on how to match up with Hooper, Moore and Emily Cady.

“But leave Hooper alone and she’ll kill you with three-pointers, then go get a rebound and put it back up for a basket.”

The ranch girl from Alliance.

“We’re driving down the street and Emily (Cady) says we should stop and give this dead bird a proper burial,” Hooper said. “I said, ‘You don’t get it. Do you?’ And my teammates said I was just mean and horrible.

“I was raised on a ranch. I named all the cows with ‘Rs’ and my favorite was Rosie,” Hooper said. “I raised her from a bucket calf to a producer. She had short ears from frostbite, and my mom said she wasn’t pretty. But we won a bunch of purple ribbons. Then, one year, she didn’t get pregnant and that was it. I lost it for a little bit, but when you’re on a cattle ranch, you know the livestock is going to be gone eventually.”

The shy shooter.

Although she is up for national awards and ranks among NU's top 10 all time in scoring and rebounding and is second in three-pointers made, Hooper was not a always a shooter.

“My mom (Jodene) used to pay me to shoot when I was little,” Hooper said. “I just didn’t feel like shooting the ball. If I was open I’d still pass. Finally, my sophomore year at Alliance, I started shooting, then started shooting more outside and now, it seems natural. It’s my role on this team.”

Hooper smiled and added, “I don’t know if my mom ever paid off.”

Even with the accolades for her play, Hooper is still reticent about the attention.

“I understand awards for individual sports and I am honored to be mentioned with any of those awards,” she said. “But anything I get should be for the team. Somebody has to pass, set a screen, play defense, and nobody can do that all by themselves. I’ll keep shooting because Coach (Connie) Yori and Linds (Moore) tell me to even when I miss a bunch.

“But I think, deep down, I’d just as soon pass and see a teammate make a shot.”

Reach Ken Hambleton at 402-473-7313 or khambleton@journalstar.com.

Ken grew up in Chicago and is a Doane College grad. His Mr. Sportsknowitall column appears Sundays, and he covers a variety of beats.