By Terry Foster
Joe Louis Arena hosts the Horizon League tournament Saturday through Tuesday for the first time in league history and Oakland University senior guard Max Hooper is hoping for another special moment.
He’d love to win this tournament and play in his first NCAA tournament game. Hooper knows he’d have a special viewer. Hooper’s dad Chip Hooper, who lives in California, was diagnosed with a rare cancer and then was hit with a stroke that confined him to a wheelchair. Max will be motivated to make every three-point attempt and advance as far through the tournament as he can so dad can enjoy as many moments as possible.
The journey continues Monday when Oakland University (21-10) plays in the Horizon League tournament semifinals against an opponent to be determined. The Golden Grizzlies, along with Valparaiso, received double byes into the semifinals and are expected to face one another in Tuesday’s winner-take-all final to the NCAA tournament.
Chip Hooper is a successful music executive for Paradigm Talent @ Literary Agency where he oversees more than 700 artists and 40 agents. As recently as 2014 he was a member of Billboard magazine’s Power 100 list. He probably won’t be at JLA Monday, but that has not been ruled out.
Max Hooper did not expect to play in front of his father until the season finale when Pistons owner Tom Gores flew Chip Hooper on his private jet to Oakland County from Monterrey Regional Airport. Max didn’t know his father was coming until a midnight phone call the night before.
“I was kind of groggy,” Hooper said. “I was like is this for real? I could barely go back to sleep. I was so excited. You really can’t put it in to words what it meant to me.”
Hooper finished with 12 points that night as Oakland clinched second place in the Horizon with a 108-97 victory over Detroit Mercy in this Metro Series rivalry at the O’rena. After the game, Max ran up into the stands and met with his father for about 40 minutes. The dad was in a hospital gurney and the son leaned over and talked to him.
“I love you,” the son said.
“I love you too son.” the dad whispered. “Make sure you keep Kay Felder out of trouble.”
Chip Hooper keeps his sense of humor and the two have joked around since Max was a four-year-old prodigy in California. Chip Hooper had a busy career, but he reserved time to cart around the Gatorade bottles for Max’s high school and AAU games. He even moved the family from Northern California to Southern California so Max could play at famed Mater Dei in Irvine to showcase his talents to college coaches.
“The basketball journey has always been about me and him all the way,” Max said.
Max Hooper is also one of the unique players in the nation. He has not taken a two-point shot this season in 229 attempts and he only shot one two point shot last season. Max has hit 44.5 percent of them and averages 10.3 points a game. He told Oakland fans he believes he is the best three-point shooter in the nation.
It is hard to argue. What makes his accomplishment even more amazing is opponents know he won’t drive to the basket so they load up on stopping the three. However, with penetrate and kick artists like Kay Felder, Jalen Hayes and Nick Daniels he is still able to get enough space to shoot.
“It is something that just sort of happened,” Hooper said. “It is not something that is planned.”
Black and Gold’s goal all along has been to make the NCAA tournament. After a rocky start, this team has won 10 of last 12 games to get into this spot. Now the magic number is two to get to the NCAA tournament.
“That’s been our goal since day one,” Hooper said. “So the mindset remains unchanged. Do whatever you can do to win those games. We kept our eye on the prize throughout the season. When we stumbled we never really let up. These two games we must have the mindset is it does not change. We want to go out and execute our scouting report and execute our game plan and do what we’ve got to do.”
(Foster can be reached at Terry.Foster@cbsradio.com)