By Jeff Griesch
In her third season in the WNBA, former Husker All-American Jordan Hooper is hitting her stride and expanding her role with the Dallas Wings.
Hooper, who spent her first two WNBA seasons gaining her footing with the Tulsa Shock before the franchise shifted to Dallas, is moving with a crispness and confidence of a veteran. She is doing more than standing in the corner, spreading the floor and salivating to sling a three for the Wings. The 6-2 forward from Alliance, Neb., is providing leadership and helping organize the Dallas defense. She is bringing energy on and off the bench, and she continues to provide a long-range threat, strong rebounding and an improved defensive presence.
“I think I finally feel like I belong in professional basketball,” Hooper said following the Wings’ home game against the Los Angeles Sparks on June 11. “My first season, most of the time I just felt like I was running around with my head cut off. Last season, we improved so much together as a team, and I was able to contribute more and learn more, while kind of establishing a niche for myself.
“This season, we have some new pieces to our team and a lot with the organization has changed with the move to Dallas, but I feel so much more comfortable and our team is playing with a lot of heart and energy.”
Through eight games this season for the Wings, Hooper was averaging WNBA career bests of 6.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game.
In back-to-back games against Atlanta (May 27) and Chicago (May 29), Hooper scored 14 points in each game. Two games after her performance against the Sky, Hooper hit for 10 points and grabbed six rebounds in just 18 minutes against the Washington Mystics.
Hooper credited her time in Australia during the 2015-16 season with sparking improvement at the start of the 2016 WNBA season.
“I loved everything about Australia,” Hooper said. “I was encouraged to explore my game and do more than one or two things. They just kind of turned me loose to play basketball, and I loved it. I honestly feel like I improved in every aspect of my game both physically and mentally. Plus, the weather was great, the people were great, my teammates were great. I loved nearly every second of my whole experience.”
Hooper’s performance on the court in the WNBL reflected her enthusiasm for the game and Australia.
In 26 games for the Southeast Queensland Stars in Australia’s WNBL in 2015-16, Hooper finished third in the league in scoring with 18.5 points per game while adding 8.6 rebounds. Hooper ranked just ahead of another former Husker All-America forward on the WNBL scoring chart, as Kelsey Griffin averaged 17.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per contest for the Bendigo Spirit. Hooper helped Southeast Queensland to the WNBL semifinals and earned honorable-mention All-WNBL accolades.
Following her season in Australia, Hooper gained some additional experience late in the year with Homentmen in Lebanon.
While she loved her season in Australia, and would definitely welcome a return trip to the WNBL in the future, Hooper will return to Europe for her third professional season in 2016-17. Hooper signed a contract in late May with the Istanbul University professional team in Turkey.
Hooper, who played her first European professional season with Besiktas in Turkey, is looking forward to her return to Turkey.
“I’m excited. I think I have a good contract for next season, and I think I will be playing with experienced players,” Hooper said. “I have experience in Turkey, so I am familiar with the culture, which should help me make a smooth transition back to Europe.”
Hooper, who also added time with Atenienses in the Puerto Rican League in 2014-15 following her first season in Turkey, said her journey as a basketball player has helped her grow in ways she never thought possible.
“Who would have thought that I would be playing against the best players in the world every night, or traveling around the world and playing in all these different places,” Hooper said. “It is pretty hard to imagine the travels and experiences basketball has given me since growing up on the ranch outside of Alliance. It’s amazing. I love it.”
While Hooper may never have envisioned basketball taking her around the world, basketball fans in Nebraska saw her potential at a young age.
The three-time first-team Super-State and All-Nebraska selection at Alliance High School was a two-time Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year (2008, 2010). As a senior at Alliance, she averaged 26.1 points, 15.2 rebounds, 3.6 steals, 2.5 assists and 5.0 blocks per game, while setting the state single-season rebounding record with 380. She finished fifth in state history with 2,078 points and second with 1,337 rebounds. She also led Alliance to its first-ever state title when she was a freshman in 2007.
In her first season at Nebraska, Hooper earned a spot on the Big 12 All-Freshman Team by averaging 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds while starting all 31 games in 2010-11. While her numbers stood out, Hooper remembers her freshman season in a similar way to her first WNBA season.
“I had no idea what I was doing most of the time I was out there my freshman year,” Hooper said. “I felt like I was running around with my head cut off back then, too. It took me a whole year to figure some things out. The great thing then was that the coaches and my teammates told me that if I was open, I should shoot it. That gave me at least a little comfort level, because I’m a pretty confident shooter.”
Confident enough to close her Nebraska career as the school record holder with 295 threes. After averaging 18.9 points and 9.3 rebounds as a sophomore, Hooper earned the first of three first-team All-Big Ten honors. She was also a three-time academic All-Big Ten selection as a Husker.
As a junior, Hooper helped the Huskers to their second NCAA Sweet Sixteen by averaging 17.9 points and 8.8 rebounds in 2012-13. She capped her Nebraska career with one of the best individual seasons in school history, averaging 20.4 points and 9.1 rebounds as the 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year. She also closed her career as one of just five Big Ten Conference players in history to amass 2,000 points (2,357) and 1,000 rebounds (1,110) in a career.
Hooper was a finalist for the Wooden Award and the Wade Trophy and was one of 10 players nationally named a WBCA First-Team All-American, before being taken with the first pick of the second round in the 2014 WNBA Draft by the Tulsa Shock.
“My time playing at Nebraska was awesome,” Hooper said. “I grew up so much and made friendships with my teammates that will last for the rest of my life. I know that no matter where I go in the world, Nebraska will always be home, and I will always be a Husker.”