US volleyball star Destinee Hooker making impact in first Olympics
LONDON -- A day before the opening ceremony at the London Games, Ricky Hooker sent a note to his daughter Destinee.
It was time to go to work.
"The blessing is I see you as a little girl that has grown up into a beautiful young warrior," the note read. "This is the time to put on your lunch pail and play the matches with your heart and soul."
Destinee Hooker, an opposite for the top-ranked U.S. women's volleyball team, opened the Olympics with 21 points in a 3-1 victory over South Korea. The team's second match on Monday will be considerably more challenging: They face Brazil, the team that beat them for the gold medal in Beijing.
Hooker, 24, is first-time Olympian after a rapid rise as one the international game's top players. Her graceful agility belies her 6-foot-4 frame, and she's surprisingly strong for her thin build.
For the games, she's taking her dad's advice seriously. She is all business.
"We need to evaluate the match and try to improve on a few things before we see Brazil on Monday," she said after the victory over Korea.
Ricky Hooker, once drafted by the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, is a pastor. Destinee posted his note on her Facebook fan page.
She is the second Olympian in the family. Big sis Marshevet was part of the 4x100 relay team that won gold in Beijing.
Both sisters were first stars at Texas. Destinee was named the most valuable player on the team that went to the 2009 NCAA championship, but lost to Penn State. She also won the 2009 NCAA indoor and outdoor championships in the high jump. She finished her career as just the second woman to win three outdoor NCAA titles in the sport.
Hooker is one of seven first-time Olympians on the U.S. team. Outside hitter Jordan Larson, another newcomer, had 16 points in the opener against South Korea.
"I don't even think about it because they're so composed on the court," U.S. captain Lindsey Berg said about Hooker and Jordan making their Olympic debuts. "They play like vets out there."
The Brazilians, ranked second by volleyball's international governing body, defeated Turkey in five sets in their first-round match. Sheilla Castro led Brazil with 19 points, while Jaqueline Carvalho had 13. Brazil is ranked No. 2 in the world. The United States took over the top spot in the world rankings at the end of 2011, ending Brazil's four-year run at No. 1.
China, Serbia, Turkey and South Korea are the other countries in their six-team group.
Japan, Russia, Italy, Algeria, the Dominican Republic and host Great Britain make up the other pool. The top four teams to emerge out of each group will advance to the quarterfinals, and the medal matches at Earls Court are set for Aug. 11.
The United States has been on a roll under coach Hugh McCutcheon, who coached the U.S. men to the gold medal in Beijing before shifted over to the women's team. Under his tutelage, the women have gone 99-37 heading into the London Games.
Hooker is one of the reasons for that success. She joined the national team in 2010. After knee surgery early last year, she rebounded as MVP in the 2011 World Grand Prix, and was the third-best scorer at the World Cup -- where the Americans' silver-medal finish earned the team the trip to London.
But perhaps her rising star was best demonstrated on Saturday night, when at one point during the match against South Korea "Destinee Hooker" was trending on Twitter.
One Tweet even proclaimed that Hooker was USA Volleyball's Usain Bolt. As Londoners would say: High praise, indeed.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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