When Cece Hooks plays defense, she values two things: aggression and anticipation.
It’s why at least a few times a game, the Ohio point guard will seemingly come out of nowhere to snatch a pass out of mid-air, block a shot or take a charge.
The Bobcats are one of the best defensive teams in the Mid-American Conference, and a major reason why is because they have the conference’s best lockdown defender.
“She has tremendous instincts,” coach Bob Boldon said. “She’s a tremendous athlete, right when she sees the ball, she can go get it before anybody else.”
Hooks’ anticipation stems from her preparation with her brother, James. Before every game, the two siblings talk on the phone and scout who she’ll have to face. If their point guard can’t go left, Hooks will know. If the opponents top forward likes the ball on the block, Hooks will anticipate it.
And if Hooks has a bad game, she can expect James’ criticism too.
“I take my brother's criticism well,” Hooks said. “If I don’t hear from him I know it’s a problem.”
Hooks has grown in all facets of her game since arriving in Athens. Her improvement is more obvious on offense. Her freshman year Hooks scored 13.5 points per game and then improved her numbers her sophomore season to 17.7. Hooks 16.6 points per game rank in the top five in MAC play this season.
But while the Hooks grew offensively she also made times to become an even better defender.
In her first season, Hooks led the conference in steals and broke the Ohio season record with 100. She was a clear lock for the MAC’s Freshman of the Year award, but the committee felt that the Defensive Player of the Year honor belonged to Central Michigan’s Tinara Moore for a second consecutive season.
“I felt like I got robbed,” Hooks said.
In her sophomore season, Hooks made sure that none of the voters would overlook her. She broke her own steals record and was voted First-Team All-MAC, MAC-All Defensive and the Defensive Player of the Year. Now her sights are on repeating.
“I earned it last year, so I’m hoping to get it back again this year,” she said.
And she’s on pace to do it.
Hooks currently has a conference-high 57 steals. If she keeps her 3.6 steals a game average she may break her own record again. Hooks gets her steals in a number of ways. She can strip the ball from the best ball handlers or intercept a pass midair. Either way, most of Hooks steals almost always end up in points for the Bobcats.
“I love stealing the ball,“ Hooks said.
The stats don’t matter to Hooks if she can’t perform against the conference’s best, though. What drives her is winning and dominating her most-talented opposition.
The MAC is full of talented scorers. Players like Buffalo’s Dyaisha Fair, Central Michigan’s Micaela Kelly and Miami’s Lauren Dickerson all have Hooks excited. She revels in the idea of not only shutting them down, but shutting them out.
“I want to get them no touches on the ball,” Hooks said. “I want to take away their opportunity to score.”
Guarding the opponent’s best player is just one example of what Hooks is willing to do to help Ohio (10-6, 3-2 MAC) win. Her hustle on the court fuels the Bobcats on every possession. Her motor is what creates and-one buckets, charges, assists and many of the key plays that help the Bobcats succeed.
Best believe, if Hooks is on the floor she’s giving her all. James wouldn’t have it any other way.
“He’s always telling me to be aggressive and to not take plays off,” Hooks said.