Oakland's Max Hooper always dialing in from way downtown
There are two types of calls in Max Hooper’s universe: Long distance, or not at all. At last check, the count for Oakland University senior swing man was 214 attempts beyond the 3-point arc, zero inside of it.
Wait. Zero? None? For a guy playing 25 minutes per game?
“I’m shocked,” Hooper chuckled. “If we had gotten a steal and I just had an open layup, an uncontested layup, I would lay it in. I’m shocked that it hasn’t happened, to be honest.
“If there’s a fast break, I’ll just run straight back to the 3-point line, and (point guard) Kay Felder just finds me back there, because that’s my shot. Coach (Greg) Kampe believes (that in) transition, it’s one of the best times to shoot the three. The defense is scrambling, it’s hard to find assignments in transition. That’s our offensive philosophy, and if I’m open for the 3, I’m expected to shoot it.”
He’s heard ’em all. Twice over.
“Everyone has their own different way they want to phrase it,” said Hooper, whose Golden Grizzlies visit Illinois-Chicago Sunday on ASN. “To me, it’s fun, I’m just playing my game, really. That’s why I think it’s funny — some people make it out to be a novelty of some sort. To me, it’s just me being extremely effective. I mean, if you look at the numbers, I’m one of the most efficient players in the nation on a per-possession basis. So I don’t think it’s a circus act at all.”
He’s got a point there. Several, in fact. Hooper is draining treys at a rate of 45.8 percent and his “true shooting percentage” of .700 ranks fourth nationally, ahead of Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (.676, 14th) and Utah’s Jakob Poeltl (.675, 16th). He’s scoring at a rate of 1.329 points per possession, second on the Grizzlies’ roster to Martez Walker’s 1.383. When you’re this efficient, the green light stays on. And on.
“Even the threat of my shots helps my teammates get easy shots,” said Hooper, who was averaging 11.1 points per contest heading into the weekend. “To me, it’s just playing my game. I’m surprised I haven’t gotten a fast-break layup or stepped on the line by accident. And obviously, I’m shooting at an extremely high percentage. It’s not like I’m out there just throwing them up.”
And it’s not like he hasn’t been consistent, either:
This season’s two-point attempts: 0
Last season: 8 (with four makes)
In 2013-14 with St. John’s: 3 (with two makes)
In 2011-12 with Harvard: 0
Hooper’s first 133 tries this year were all from behind the arc, an NCAA record for consecutive 3-point attempts to open a campaign. He’s on track to become just the third Division I player since 2005 to rank among the Top 100 in 3-point shots while also attempting fewer than 20 2-pointers.
“I don’t get tired of talking about it, if it takes Oakland University and gets our team attention,” Hooper said. “And I appreciate any attention on me. But like I said, for some people, it might be interesting. For other people, it might be a circus act of sorts. But I’ve worked my butt off to be able to have a role like this.”
Hooper’s road to 3-point glory (or infamy) is a narrative in itself. A teen standout in his native California, the 6-6 sharpshooter spent a year honing his game across the country at Brewster (N.H.) Academy, where he was valedictorian of his postgraduate class and eventually landed at Harvard.
From a playing time perspective, the Crimson offered only a cup of coffee; a transfer to St. John’s presented barely a grande. And yet every time Hooper was a scholastic free agent — after high school, after prep school, after Harvard, and after St. John’s — Kampe, Oakland’s engine, would call with the same pitch, the same olive branch.
The fourth time was the charm.
“It was just really hard to say ‘no’ to Harvard,” Hooper recalled. “Leaving Harvard, I had a chance to play in the Big East and Madison Square Garden. (But) I wasn’t happy with my role there. Coach Kampe was persistent and gave me another try. He called me and said, ‘This is the one time I’m going to call you.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll let you know.’
“After a few days, I committed to Oakland. It is kind of a funny narrative. I do appreciate his persistence. I think it says a lot about the fit, how well I fit his system. I don’t think he’d keep trying if he thought I was someone who was a questionable fit for his system.”
He fits like a glove, that silky shot a product of nature and many, many, many, many, many hours of nurture. This past summer, Hooper picked the brain of Oklahoma City Thunder guard Anthony Morrow, absorbing tips on footwork and mindset. Summer league contests in Lansing, Mich., helped mold mental toughness and moxie — there’s no test like testing yourself against Tom Izzo’s Michigan State studs, even in the offseason — while also strengthening his on-court rapport with Felder.
“I’d never met him and then I came here and I played open gym, I was like, ‘OK, I know what we’re dealing with. This guy, he’s a leader,’” Hooper said of the Grizzlies’ stellar point man. “We’re both high-IQ players. I think it just takes some time to get that chemistry. As a shooter, I’m very particular as to where I like the ball delivered and how I get open … now (that) he and I have played together the last two years, it’s almost like, I’ll give a nod of my head, we’ll just make eye contact. He knows where I’m going to be on the court at all times.”
That kind of confidence can be contagious, especially when backs are against the wall. Especially with March looming, with caviar dreams hanging in the balance.
“We’re completely confident in what we’re able to do,” Hooper said. “We’ve stumbled a couple of times along the way. At the end of the day, the fact is, the Horizon is a one-bid league. What it comes down to is playing your best basketball (at the league tourney) … we’re just focused on trying to do that. And that’s really where we’re at.”
And if the only thing standing between the Grizzlies and the Big Dance is a wide-open layup? Hooper promises the next call will not be collect.
“If the basket is unprotected, I’m going to lay it in to win the game,” the senior chuckled. “I just want to win. That’s what’s really most important to me, is getting Oakland back to the NCAA Tournament.”
Above: Max Hooper courtesy Oakland University Athletics)