Cece Hooks is a feisty defender, crafty passer and can finish with either hand. But while the reigning Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year is a great player, she isn’t a complete one. There’s one prominent flaw in Hooks’ game that’s held her back: She can’t shoot.
When the 5-foot-8 point guard pulls up, she releases the ball out of her left hand like a shotput. Last season, she was 3-of-25 from beyond the arc, and defenses soon realized the best way to defend Hooks was to force her to use her non-existent jumper.
Hooks was still able to average 13.5 points a game, but she struggled when there was no lane to the basket. It became clear to her that if she doesn’t learn how to shoot, the game won’t become easier.
“I think she’s been dedicated to expanding her game and becoming a better player,” coach Bob Boldon said. “And in order for her to do that, she knows she needs to shoot the ball.”
The transition for Hooks has been tough.
“It’s hard when you’re as athletic as she is and you can get to the basket your whole life,” Boldon said. “Now all of a sudden you have to diversify your game a little bit.”
Hooks has embraced diversity, and she’s determined to take her game to new heights and new ranges. Over the summer, she worked on her shooting with her brother, James White. While her team was in Athens, she was in a Dayton YMCA elevating her skills.
Hooks took hundreds of reps by herself. Nobody knew how good she’d be when she returned, but she was going to make sure that defenses would respect and even fear her jumper her entire sophomore season.
After months of hard work, Hooks has the most important trait for a shooter: Confidence.
“I feel like my shooting has gotten a lot better,” Hooks said.
And she isn’t the only one who thinks so.
“I think she’s definitely more comfortable with her shot now,” Hooks’ backcourt partner Amani Burke said. “Adding that to her game will make her that much of a better player.”
It will also make the Bobcats a better team.
Last season, Ohio averaged 67.3 points per game on 38.1 percent shooting and 29.2 percent from 3-point range. This season, the Bobcats are averaging 93.7 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting and 39.5 percent from 3-point range.
That’s a huge thanks to Hooks. She’s gotten to the rim even easier than she did last year, and she’s the team’s leading scorer with 19 points per game.
But when will Bobcat fans see her improved jumper?
They already have.
With 1:28 left in the third quarter of the Bobcats’ 86-49 win over Binghamton last Thursday, Hooks found herself wide open for a 3-pointer. There was a clear lane for a layup, but Hooks did something uncharacteristic.
She pulled up.
She barely rose off the ground as the ball nearly rested on her left shoulder. Her arm and wrist snapped violently as the ball sailed out of her hands. There was zero arc on the shot and the Adidas brand basketball was on its way to crashing in the front of the rim.
But at the last second something happened.
The ball lifted over the rim and rolled softly into the net. The 2,167 in attendance roared as Hooks made her way back down the court with a smile on her face.
“My teammates kept telling me to shoot the ball,” Hooks said. “So I decided to shoot and not think about it.”
Hooks’ “just shoot it mentality” could be too much for the MAC to handle. Gone are the days of defenses lagging off and counting on her missing the wide open jumper. If teams don’t guard Hooks honestly, they’ll regret it.
“She’s worked really, really hard on becoming a better shooter,” Boldon said. “It’s coming, it’s certainly coming and when it gets here she’s going to be a handful.”