Hooker’s game — and potential — are scary for opponents
By Andrew Petyak
New Castle News
Malik Hooker is good — scary good.
The junior forward for the New Castle High basketball team is athletically gifted, tenacious and gritty. But what impresses coach Ralph Blundo most about his 6-foot-2 star is that despite an already impressive résumé — which includes a starting role on back-to-back WPIAL championship teams — is the fact he believes Hooker barely has tapped into his potential.
“Potential can be a scary word, but he certainly has it. He’s already a great player. I just want him to continue to work to be the best possible player he can be,” Blundo said. “That’s the thing about Malik, truly, the sky’s the limit in terms of his ability. What’s really a great thing is that he’s already a great player and we’re still talking about potential.”
A multi-sport athlete for the Red Hurricane, Hooker used his football training to prepare for this year’s basketball season.
“Coming into this year, I was a lot stronger than I was last year,” Hooker said. “As most people know, I play football and that made me a lot stronger. Also, all the running I’ve done, I was more conditioned. I have more stamina than I did last year. It gave me a little more energy to do a little more.”
Hooker was an exciting offensive player to watch on the ’Canes football squad this past season, averaging an impressive 25.6 yards per reception from the wide receiver position. He led New Castle in receiving yards (333), receptions (13) and was second on the team in total touchdowns (11).
That success continued in the form of improvement on the basketball court this season, as Hooker upped his scoring average from 10.1 points a game his sophomore season to 16.7 this year.
It was more of the same for Hooker in the ’Canes 68-48 win over Gateway in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs, when he lit it up inside for 15 points. For his efforts, he earned Lawrence County Athlete of the Week honors, an award sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.
“I think over the course of this season, he’s improved more than anybody,” Blundo said. “I think his handle has improved, his overall skill has improved.”
An often overlooked area of Hooker’s game has been his ability to go outside and shoot 3-pointers this season. After totaling just five in 27 games last year, he has more than tripled that number to 18.
“A little-known fact about him, he’s our leading 3-point shooter in terms of percentage on the team. He doesn’t take many, but when he does, they usually go in,” Blundo said. “He shoots 53 percent, which is an unbelievable number.”
It was easy for Hooker to pinpoint how he was able to make such strides in the offseason.
“Pretty much two simple things — dedication and hard work. It’s what I do on the football field and the basketball court. I want to bring it to both things,” he said. “I want to bring my competitiveness and my effort.
“I just like getting my team going by bringing effort and high tempo. That’s what everyone on our team brings. We want to keep the tempo going and bring our best effort at all times, even in practice. That’s all we want to do.”
Blundo instilled a sense of responsibility with Hooker and many of his current New Castle teammates early in their high school careers. It’s something that seems to have paid off for the team’s crop of juniors like Hooker, Anthony Richards and twins Stew Allen and Drew Allen. After a 20-8 season their freshman year, the juniors were key factors in the ’Canes combining for a 54-1 record the past two seasons, which includes two-straight undefeated regular seasons.
“Malik went from an eighth-grade basketball player to not playing JV. He went straight to varsity basketball,” Blundo said. “He played about 20 minutes a game as a freshman. He was a big part of our success then. He’s blessed with a tremendous amount of athletic ability and works at it. He’s just getting better and better.”
The jump to varsity competition was an immediate wake-up call for young Hooker and his teammates.
“It was us having to be more mature than what we were coming into my freshman season. We had to be tougher and outwork everybody else. As most people can imagine, we were a lot smaller than most of the other varsity players. We didn’t really know better, but after that season, coach expected a lot more from us going into our sophomore and junior years.”
It was an easy expectation to fulfill for Hooker, who has basketball in his blood. He was introduced to the sport at an early age with help from his sister, Jazelle Dennis, and his cousin, Rodney Parchman — both former New Castle basketball players.
“That was my very first love — basketball,” he said. “I like football a lot, too, but with basketball, it’s just something that I always really ran to. Even when I had problems or I just wasn’t feeling myself, I’d just go to the gym and shoot just to get everything figured out and straight.
“When the team all graduates, we know we’re all eventually going to have to go apart. That’s something sad but, eventually, when we get older, we’re all going to want to meet up sometime and we’re going to want to talk about this — how we used to clown around in the locker room and how we won two WPIAL championships. That’s one of those good moments in life that you’re going to want to look back on.”
THE MALIK HOOKER FILE
TEAM: New Castle
KNOWN FOR: Hooker finished with 15 points in the ’Canes 68-48 victory over Gateway in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs over the weekend at North Allegheny High School. For the season, Hooker ranks second on New Castle with 16.7 points a contest.
PARENTS: Jermaine Hooker and Angela Dennis
FAVORITE PRO PLAYER AND WHY: LeBron James, Miami Heat. “He’s just a dominate player. He loves what he does at all times. I see him as the best because he’s always competitive at all times, regardless of who is on the court and who he is playing against.”
FAVORITE TEAM AND WHY: Miami Heat. “It’s the Heat because I like watching Dwyane Wade too and what he does. I also like what Shane Battier and all the others bring to the table. They’re not just role players, they’re stars too, and they play just as hard as all the other stars do. ”
FUTURE PLANS: Hooker plans to attend college and either play basketball or football. After graduation, he’d like to be involved in a sports-related profession, like a physical therapist.