Difference maker: Hooks ready to step up with UNM women

May 4—Destinee Hooks didn't have a full season to prove herself as a college basketball difference-maker.

Turns out she didn't need one.

Hooks, a 5-foot-9 guard/forward from Indianapolis, had to sit out the first nine games of her career at Vincennes University last season after breaking two bones in her right hand in a preseason scrimmage. The Lady Trailblazers went 3-6 without her.

With Hooks in the lineup, the script flipped. Vincennes went 16-5 the rest of the way, advancing to the NJCAA Region 24 championship game. The talented freshman was a driving force, earning Regional Player of the Year and NJCAA Second Team All-American honors.

Imagine what Hooks could do over the course of a full season. For University of New Mexico fans, imagination won't be necessary.

Hooks, a lifelong Indiana resident, recently signed on to bring her skills to Albuquerque — shortly after making a visit to New Mexico along with her mother and older brother.

"I loved it," Hooks said. "The basketball facilities, the city, the weather, I fell in love with everything. I'm an Indiana girl and we're a big basketball state, but the weather is pretty bipolar. I'm really looking forward to playing in New Mexico. I hear they love their basketball, too."

Hooks' junior college résumé may be brief, but it is impressive. She averaged 21.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.9 steals at Vincennes as a freshman, ranking sixth nationally in scoring, 17th in assists and 28th in steals.

Her standout season came without a lot of forethought. Coming out of Indianapolis' North Central High School, Hooks had planned to walk on at Kentucky.

"That didn't end up working out," she said, "and playing at Vincennes was nothing short of a blessing. They reached out to me, offered me an opportunity and it turned out to be an amazing year. I really learned a lot."

UNM coach Mike Bradbury took notice of Hooks' breakout season and liked what he saw. Bradbury believes her combination of athleticism, length and aggressiveness will translate well at the Division I level."

"Destinee does a lot of things well," Bradbury said. "She handles the ball, drives, attacks the basket and has a good feel for the game. She'll have to adjust to playing up a level, but she's ready. She has the tools to be really good."

Ironically, one of those tools is an improved left hand, which Hooks focused on while her right hand healed.

"I made it my goal to be more ambidextrous," she said with a laugh. "I don't know how well it worked, but I am better with my left now."

Hooks spent much of last season as a primary ballhandler at Vincennes, but that is likely to change at UNM. Bradbury projects her more as a 3-guard, which Hooks says suits her just fine.

"I actually prefer to play off the ball," she said. "I think that suits my game better. I like to slash to the basket and work off screens. I feel like I can score at all three levels, but I'm going to do whatever the coaches need."

Hooks admitted that the next few months will be something of a crash course as she tries to familiarize herself with New Mexico, UNM basketball and next season's Mountain West Conference competition. Still, her success at Vincennes on relatively short notice serves as a confidence-builder.

"Everything's going to be new for me," she said, "but I'm really excited for the challenge. My mom's trying to find a place (in Albuquerque) so she can come to the games. Getting a chance to prove myself in Division I is exactly what I wanted. It's awesome."