The portrait is one of the most memorable in the history of memorable World-Herald sports photos. One of the state’s great athletes, Jordan Hooper, clutching a basketball as she soars in the air. Behind her stretches miles of ranch land in the Sand Hills.
This is where Hooper, a silky shooter and elite scorer at the prep and college levels, honed her game — 15 miles from the middle of nowhere, on a patch of concrete poured just so she and her brother, Kyle, could practice more hoops. Jordan and Kyle helped pay for it by raising and selling steers and sheep.
Pretty good investment. Hooper was one of the state’s most dominant prep athletes — three times she was All-Nebraska in basketball for Alliance High School, roughly 45 minutes from her ranch home — and one of the best players in Nebraska basketball history, finishing first-team All-Big Ten three times, winning Big Ten Player of the Year in 2014 and finishing second at NU in career points and rebounds.
She helped Nebraska win three NCAA tournament games, made a school-record 295 3-pointers in her career and, though there’s no official count, probably signed more autographs than any Nebraska women’s basketball player. Jordan Hooper was close to a prep legend when she arrived in Lincoln and what Nebraska women’s basketball coach Connie Yori called the perfect role model when she left.
In 2014, Hooper was drafted into the WNBA by the Tulsa Shock. Along with Anna DeForge and Kelsey Griffin, Hooper is among the most successful ex-Huskers at the pro level.
Overseas, Hooper played her first year of pro basketball in Istanbul, Turkey.
There are 14 million people in Istanbul’s metro area. So it’s more or less the opposite of where Hooper grew up.
“You’re going to get homesick, but I’ve tried to treat it like college,” Hooper said of pro basketball. “One day at a time, wait until the next holiday break.”
Hooper got homesick her first year at Nebraska, despite her early success. She stuck it out in Lincoln, however, and is glad she did.
“It’s been hard at times; it’s been awesome at times,” Hooper said. “In the long run, it’s totally worth it. I love that this is my job. I love that I get to go to work every day and play basketball.”
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Best athlete from Nebraska played with or against: In high school, Hooper looked up her Alliance basketball and volleyball teammate Lindsey Briggs. “She always pushed herself and all of us to be better, and I always admired her for that,” Hooper said. At Nebraska, it was former Lincoln Northeast and Husker star Dominique Kelley-Johnson - now a full-time assistant at Drake - and close friend/point guard Lindsey Moore who helped push and motivate Hooper. Both players were extroverted, upbeat communicators who brought Hooper out of her occasional shell.
Best moment: For all its success in the last decade, Nebraska women’s basketball had been merely so-so in conference tournaments. Led by a sparkling weekend of play by Hooper, the Huskers won their conference tournament title in school history. Hooper averaged 22 points and eight rebounds over three games, and the team won early enough on March 9, 2014 to fly back to Pinnacle Bank Arena and be honored during a timeout of the raucous Nebraska/Wisconsin men’s basketball game. Holding the trophy in that setting, with nearly 16,000 on their feet, roaring, was “the best feeling I’ve had,” Hooper said. “Nebraskans support Nebraskans.”
Early sign of greatness: Hooper led Alliance to a Class B state title as a freshman, averaging 16.1 points and 10.4 rebounds in her first season. The country girl, clearly, could play.