Jalen Hooks is no stranger to playing against older competition.
After taking on a big role as a freshman against a challenging schedule, the 6-foot-6 Hooks had a sense for what “playing up” looked like.
But Hooks has upped the playing up ante this summer.
Playing for the U17 EG10 AAU program operated by Eric Gordon, Sr. this summer, Hooks is now playing against rosters stacked with higher end talent mostly two years ahead of him in school.
Hooks took on the challenge to accelerate his development. It’s a challenge that he wanted.
But playing up two years comes with its share of challenges, even for someone as talented as Hooks.
“It’s like AAU varsity. You can definitely see how you have to step your game up and play smarter,” Hooks told The Daily Hoosier.
One of the benefits of playing AAU, and especially U17, is that Hooks can work more on developing all areas of his game.
Although he was just a freshman at Franklin Central in Indianapolis this past season, Hooks’ size relative to his teammates necessitated that he play on the block more on both ends of the floor.
But as his career evolves, Hooks hopes to be more of a perimeter oriented player.
“I want to move to the two or three and handle the ball more and be more of an initiator,” Hooks said.
He is getting that chance this summer.
For EG10 Hooks guards the ball at the top of the defense a fair amount, and he has the length, motor and athleticism to be very disruptive there. Hooks also plays with the ball in his hands on the perimeter often too on the other end.
Hooks put together a strong freshman campaign for Franklin Central while playing in the challenging Hoosier Crossroads Conference.
He was the third-leading scorer and rebounder for the Flashes as a freshman, averaging 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest. He added 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steal per game, and Hooks shot 46 percent from the field for his 2019-20 season.
“I definitely got better and learned a lot. We should be pretty good this year,” Hooks said.
Hooks doesn’t have a flashy game. He plays with more of an aggressive, physical and hard-working approach. That could be why when you ask him about his strengths right now, you get an answer that is a little different than what you might expect from a young player that is already receiving a lot of attention.
“I think I play great defense, and I think I’m a good passer,” Hooks said.
Of course there are plenty of aspects of his game that Hooks wants to improve.
His focus right now?
“Dribbling with pressure on me full court and playing through mental mistakes,” he told The Daily Hoosier.
While rankings aren’t yet available for the class of 2023, Hooks looks the part of a top-100 talent that will enjoy a national recruitment.
In fact, he is already talking to some of the top programs around the country.
While coaches are not yet permitted to contact Hooks directly, he already has a dialogue going with an impressive list of schools.
“I call Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Maryland, Florida, Iowa, Ohio State, Nevada, UCLA, Illinois, Toledo, and probably a couple that I missing,” Hooks said.
The dialogue with Indiana is fairly regular.
“I’m talking to coach Archie. I try to call him every week,” Hooks said.
The connections to IU run deep. Most of Hooks’ family went to IU including his sister that recently graduated. He is good friends with IU players Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin, along with team manager Adam Howard.
None of that should be read to suggest that Hooks favors a particular school. That is just the lay of the land when it comes to IU.
Hooks’ recruitment is only just beginning.
When he looks down the road a couple years and tries to project what will be important to him in choosing a college, the logic sounds familiar.
It is a lot like playing up two years for AAU.
“I want to make sure I keep getting better and develop,” Hooks said.
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