UND’s Hooker leads his Fighting Hawks into The Big Dance tonight as one of the best ever — on and off the court
Growing up in suburban Minneapolis, Quinton Hooker had plenty of role models.
But the ones who had the greatest impact on shaping him into the man he is today were his parents: Janice and Ray Hooker.
Hardworking and salt-of-the-Earth types, Ray worked in the insurance industry while Janice ran a home daycare.
“They taught me to work hard and to trust God and put your faith in Him and be a good person overall,” said Quinton, the third of four Hooker children.
The same qualities that served his parents well in life and careers rubbed off on young Quinton:
Be caring to others.
Take care of business.
Have fun doing it.
Tonight, Quinton Hooker, the 6-foot undisputed leader of the UND men’s basketball team, plans to do that and more as he and his teammates make history as the first UND squad to play in The Big Dance, the NCAA Division I national tournament. They’ll play the University of Arizona Wildcats just before 9 p.m., in Salt Lake City in the first round.
Hooker, affectionately known as “Q,” has been caring for others, taking care of business and having fun doing it ever since he arrived at UND four years ago as a highly touted mid-major prospect out of Park High School in Brooklyn Park, Minn. And in the process, he’s made a strong case to be considered one of the all-time greats to play basketball at UND.
Just like his parents taught him: Hooker takes care of others. He’s dished out more than 400 assists.
Just like his parents taught him: he’s taken care of business. He’s scored more than 1,700 points, most recently moving into sixth place all-time and surpassing the mark of UND great Phil Jackson, the NBA playing and coaching legend and current President of the New York Knicks.
And just like his parents taught him: he’s having fun. At UND, Hooker has evolved into the ultimate fan favorite by young and old. This is because of his “engaging personality off the court and his fiery competitiveness on the floor,” according to a recent story by Grand Forks Herald Sports Writer Tom Miller.
The article goes on to quote UND Head Basketball Coach Brian Jones about his star point guard.
“He’s the Pied Piper,” Jones said. “People want to follow him because of his infectious personality. He’s an ambassador not only for the athletic department, but also for this university.”
When he hangs up his UND jersey for the last time, his final career stat line will be hard to top. He is the only player in program history to score 1,700 points (1,762), grab 400 rebounds (494), dish out 400 assists (413) and net 150 steals (194) in a career. He is second among active Big Sky scorers trailing only Weber State’s Jeremy Senglin. Hooker’s 413 assists and 194 steals are tops among active league players.
Hooker, a social sciences major, says he looks back on his decision to come to UND as one of best he’s ever made. He could have gone elsewhere as there was interest for his services from near and far.
But UND just felt right to Hooker when he was recruited here by former UND Assistant Coach Gameli Ahelegbe, now with the University of South Dakota. Ahelegbe was a boyhood mentor of Hooker’s in the Twin Cities, a factor that really helped in the trust factor.
“It’s been more than I expected coming here,” Hooker said. “When I stepped on campus for the first time, it was really just a family feel.”
With Hooker’s verbal commitment secured, UND had to wait out his high school senior year in which he ascended from under the radar to the top of the charts, leading his team to the 4A Minnesota State title game and earning all-state first team honors and the designation of 2013 Minnesota Mr. Basketball.
There was legitimate concern that the big schools would come calling like they did for Hooker’s former AAU teammate Tyus Jones, who would go onto play for NCAA powerhouse Duke before landing a spot with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.
But Hooker remained unwavering in his commitment to UND.
“When you make a decision that’s going to impact you for the next four years, usually your first gut instinct is what is right,” Hooker said. “There was a lot of thought and prayer behind that decision and thankfully it has paid off.”
UND is thankful, too, for Hooker’s loyalty, as he has UND basketball headed into uncharted territory at the Division I level. Millions upon millions of fans across the United States are filling out NCAA Tournament brackets, making conscious decisions whether to pick the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks or not.
It’s a gold mine of advertising for a team from a so-called “hockey school” only a few years removed from the NCAA Division II ranks and an even more recent transition to a new nickname and logo.
“It’s great to hear people who are alumni put us on the same level of praise as the hockey team, making their amazing runs throughout their history,” Hooker said. “But this is big for us. In the basketball world, this is March Madness. This is the Big Show.
“You can feel it in the community, as far as the buzz and the energy and how much people are excited to come to our games now – it’s really an awesome feeling.”
After UND teams won a national championship (men’s hockey) and five conference championships (men’s hockey, volleyball, football, women’s basketball and men’s basketball) in the past year, Hooker wants to keep UND’s strong sports momentum going into the NCAA Tournament.
Hooker owes his parents a lot. He credits his athleticism to his dad who grew up playing basketball in the neighborhood parks of Milwaukee and who played college football at Wayne State in Nebraska. His mom also was active in track & field, gymnastics and cheerleading.
But, he says, it’s the off-the-court stuff he learned from his parents that’s made all the difference.
“They’re just hard working people that provided for our family and showed me how to provide for myself, too,” Hooker said. “They taught me to be the person I am today.”
That and — take care of others, take care of business and have fun doing it.