By Andrew Koob
New Castle News
It started with a friendly question.
Following New Castle’s 78-61 victory over Hampton in the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals on Friday, a reporter asked Malik Hooker, now a freshman on the Ohio State University football team, to name the best player in the family: Himself or one of his brothers, ’Canes’- junior Marquel or freshman Marcus.
“I’m still the best Hooker,” Malik responded with a smile.
It may incite some family rivalries, if there wasn’t one already, but Marcus has made his case since New Castle entered the Class AAA playoffs.
The youngest Hooker has totaled 31 points in two games, including 18 in the win against Hampton, while leading the ’Canes (20-5) in rebounding with in those two contests with 14 in an 80-64 win over South Park and 10 against the Talbots.
Despite the uptick in production, Marcus believes he has a way to go to catch his brother. And he isn’t talking about Malik.
“By far, he is not the best,” Marcus said of Malik. “I would have to say Marquel, he’s better than me, but definitely better than Malik. Totally honest right now, he is not the best.”
New Castle coach Ralph Blundo knows that Malik holds the crown as one of the best players to come through the ’Canes program. But he sees what Marcus has done, even at such a young age, and is understandably impressed by what he has seen.
“It’s hard to do. He’s still just a kid, 15 years old,” Blundo said. “This is, without question, the most successful freshman season anyone has ever had at New Castle. It’s a credit to how hard he’s been working and learning. He’s very easy to coach, accepts criticism and understands what he needs to do to be better. He’s been finishing, that’s probably the biggest thing. He’s had opportunities down low and he’s been finishing. The other thing is how well he’s been rebounding the ball last couple of games.
“Thirty-one points and 24 rebounds in two games, that’s pretty good for a 5-10 freshman.”
Marcus Hooker is averaging 9.8 points on the year, including a 12-point performance in a 52-49 loss to Beaver Falls in the WPIAL semifinals last night.
For Marcus, who dons Malik’s former number 23, he’s just doing what his coaches count on him to do.
“I just do what’s expected of me and play how I’m supposed to play every game,” Marcus said.
Marcus has had to shoulder a heavier load than other freshmen have had to in the past. Yet he has stepped up when the ’Canes have needed them most.
“Malik Hooker and Anthony Richards both had nice freshman years, they probably averaged seven or eight points each,” Blundo said. “Neither started, but Marcus is required to do a little bit more. Anthony and Malik had Shawn Anderson, Corey Eggleston and those guys, Brandon Domenick and Antonio Rudolph. We’ve needed Marcus to do more than what we’ve needed Malik and Anthony to do as freshmen. He’s definitely answered the bell.”
Marcus has impressed on the court, yet Blundo credits Marquel for bringing him along so quickly as much as Marcus’ on-court maturation. Their relationship has poured onto the court, which has led to great results for New Castle.
“What they do, Marquel has done a great job of nurturing his brother and bringing him along,” Blundo said. “Marquel is the more polished basketball player right now and understands the system and my expectation is better because he’s been with us for two years. So he has really, and you’ll see it on the court, directed Marcus where to go and where to be and what to do. It’s gotten him in the right places and that has been invaluable for us.
“They communicate well together out on the court. It’s been a real blessing.”
School: New Castle
Parents: Angela Dennis and Jermaine Hooker
Known for: Amassing 31 points and 24 rebounds in two WPIAL Class AAA playoff wins against South Park and Hampton.
Favorite team: University of Pittsburgh. “Just close, an inner-city thing with New Castle and Pittsburgh.”
Favorite player: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers. “He’s just great. He’s the greatest, that’s why he’s called ‘The King.’”
Future Plans: “Go to college and become a physical therapist.”