It’s hard to duplicate the isolation of the Hooper ranch on the high plains of western Nebraska, some 35 miles from Alliance.
But sometimes, Nebraska’s lone senior, Jordan Hooper, needs that solitude. It helps her focus. It’s how she was raised and part of the reason why she’s one of the best players to don the uniform for the Huskers.
She rooms alone this year, one of the privileges of being the only senior on the roster. A few hours before Monday night’s showdown with No. 8 Penn State, Hooper sat on the bench in a mostly silent Pinnacle Bank Arena, preparing for a huge game with her thoughts as her only companion.
What did she think about?
“I had a moment,” she said. “I’m so blessed and appreciative of this place and the people around me. It was awesome.”
Then she and her teammates went out and thumped the Nittany Lions, building a 52-30 halftime lead on their way to a 94-74 triumph. Hooper scored 19 points and added 12 rebounds and four assists. It was the Huskers' eighth straight victory and puts them in position to earn a share of the Big Ten title. Thursday's game against last-place Illinois will be Hooper’s last regular-season contest in front of the home crowd.
Her best friend is Lindsey Moore, the former Husker guard who plays for the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA. She’s seen the transformation of Hooper from small-town hero to one of the country’s top college players. She’s visited the Hooper ranch — “There’s no one, literally, for miles,” she said — and describes her friend as someone who just goes with the flow.
“She likes her space,” Moore said.
Hooper is the No. 2 scorer and rebounder in Nebraska history and is one of only three Huskers to have at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. This year she's averaging 20.1 points and 9.3 rebounds a game.
What’s amazing about Hooper is that she is a volume shooter without the ego. She knows the team’s best chance to win is for her to shoot the ball, so she does it to win, not to just get her points.
“You tell her to shoot 15 times in the half, she’ll shoot 15 times,” Moore said. “She has a simple approach to the game. She just does what you ask her to do.”
Hooper once considered playing volleyball for John Cook at Nebraska — he offered her a scholarship when she came to a volleyball camp while she was in high school — but she knew her heart was with the orange ball, not the white one.
Nebraska coach Connie Yori offered Hooper a scholarship after watching her play for Alliance High during her freshman year. She told the sharp-shooting 15-year-old that with a name like “Jordan Hooper,” she was born to play basketball.
“I just think of how humble she’s been, and that says a lot about her,” Yori said. “There are ‘Jordan Hooper crazies’ out there, these little girls and grown men, they just love Jordan Hooper.
“I think that’s what's cool about Jordan, how good an athlete she is and how she’s handled this. Other kids, it could have gone to their heads. She never thinks she’s that good. I really appreciate that about her. She’s really kind of a celebrity, and yet she doesn’t act like it in any way, shape or form.”
Earlier this season, Hooper was lukewarm about the possibility of a WNBA career. Wednesday, she said she really does want to try it, for a year, to see if she likes it. But going overseas to play, like Moore did this winter?
Hooper sighed when asked that question. That would be another huge step away from her comfort zone. It would also be farther from her supporters.
“All of this has been just a constant process of helping me along, from third grade on,” Hooper said. “I’ve had great coaches, teammates, family and friends, just everybody, encouraging me. That’s what I credit my whole career to, everybody else.”
Thursday will be a night for the university and the fans to show their appreciation for Hooper’s contribution to the program. She said she has a lot of family and friends coming and hopes all of Alliance (pop. 8,499) will show up.
“You’d like to dream about this stuff, but until it actually gets here, you don’t think you have any idea or feelings about that, because it’s so far in advance,” Hooper said. “I definitely never thought I’d be sitting here for my final home game at Nebraska. It came by really, really fast. This week has gone by fast, which is kind of sad. It’s been a whirlwind, honestly. It’s been a blast and it’s been fun.”