From long range, Tulane’s Jay Hook leaves foes shook

Jay Hook broke his shooting hand at the beginning of November. As March approaches, he is on the verge of breaking records.

Tulane's Jay Hook, right, shoots against UAB's Tosin Mehinti during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Birmingham, Ala., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/ AL.com, Mark Almond)
Tulane's Jay Hook, right, shoots against UAB's Tosin Mehinti during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Birmingham, Ala., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/ AL.com, Mark Almond)

Look no farther than Hook’s remarkable transformation for a reason the Tulane basketball team has exceeded low preseason expectations. He is close to setting single-season school marks for 3-pointers and 3-point percentage, and the Green Wave is a win away from assuring its first .500 or better finish in Conference USA since 2006-07.

When Tulane (15-13, 7-6) entertains Florida Atlantic (10-18, 5-8) at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Devlin Fieldhouse, the Owls’ priority will be slowing Hook, who made seven consecutive 3-pointers last week as the Wave split home games with Texas-El Paso and Texas-San Antonio.

“It’s definitely been an experience for me,” said Hook, who had surgery immediately after his injury and was ready for the season opener. “Breaking my hand and all, I didn’t think I was going to have the best shooting season like I have. It’s just a testament to what hard work does and what consistency does. It’s a blessing.”

It has been a curse for opponents. Having hit 67 3-pointers in 135 attempts, Hook is three 3s shy of the NCAA’s rigorous minimum standard for statistical leaders of 2.5 makes per game. If he were qualified, his percentage of .496 would rank third nationally.

If he maintains his recent form, he may pass the school record of 81 3-pointers that Jordan Callahan set last year. Barring a massive slump, he will shatter Michael Christian’s mark for best percentage (.430) by any Tulane player attempting 70 or more 3s.

His Twitter handle is @ThrillaJay24. Call him ThrillaJay with the Killer J.

“He’s on fire,” teammate Louis Dabney said. “We are going to keep giving it to him. It’s very pretty to watch. They all look good.”

Nothing Hook had done in the past indicated he was ready for this kind of breakthrough. Lightly recruited out of Waco (Texas) Midway High, he sank 19 of 68 3-pointers (27.9 percent) while averaging 12.6 minutes as a freshman. His role was even smaller last season, when he connected on 15-of-54 3s (27.8 percent) in an average of 6.2 minutes.

He has made the most of the opportunity created by Callahan’s graduation and the season-long absence of sophomore guard Kajon Mack with a foot injury. Playing more than 30 minutes per game, Hook is averaging 14.1 points and 5.0 rebounds.

That’s an impressive haul for a 6-foot-3 guard, but it still pales in comparison to his long-range shooting. Hook was 4-for-4 on 3s against UTEP, which leads C-USA in field goal percentage defense. He followed with six 3s in nine attempts Saturday against UTSA, his high in conference action.

He has made at least two 3-pointers in 10 consecutive games, going 33 for 58 (56.9 percent) in that span.

“He has a quick release, and he has deep range,” coach Ed Conroy said. “When you can space the floor the way he does and you get it off quick, it really stretches the floor and makes it hard for people to defend.”

Hook, who began C-USA play by missing eight straight 3s, has learned how to get open despite increased attention. UTEP’s and UTSA’s defenders were all over him, but he consistently found ways to shake them. Comfortable from as far away as 25 feet, he launched the shot too quickly for defenders to recover.

“If you know you are going to get a screen, you have an edge because the defender doesn’t know where you’re going,” he said. “You have to run and act like you’re mad about not getting the ball or look around and walk the other way and just take off.”

Conroy described it slightly differently.

“We always talk about having an act to your game,” he said. “It’s a like a baseball pitcher. If all they have is a fastball, pretty soon you’re going to time it. And Hook has learned how to change speeds, start and stop. He’ll go from fast to slow, act like he’s not involved and then he’ll burst to get to an open area.”

Tulane’s lack of a post presence makes Hook’s performance even more noteworthy. With no big men averaging more than 6.4 points, he gets almost no looks off double teams or inside-out action.

His surgically repaired hand, which he said he has reinjured at least three times, is a testament to his toughness. He attempted his last 3 against UTSA after catching a pass with his left hand because his right hand was throbbing.

It hit nothing but net.

“I still wonder how I’m doing it sometimes,” he said. “You take a couple of Advils for pain, and you’re good to go for the game and just try to block it out. Shooters have bad memories, so you forget about the pain.”

Women host Tulsa

The Tulane women open Wednesday’s doubleheader at Devlin Fieldhouse by hosting Tulsa at 6 p.m. (WRBH-FM, 88.3).

Tulane (19-7, 10-3) is coming off an 81-79 loss at UAB on Saturday. Junior guard Danielle Blagg leads the Green Wave’s balanced offense at 12.4 points per game.

Tulsa won its most recent game — 63-43 over host North Texas on Saturday — but has struggled to 11-13 and 5-8 marks this season. Ashley Clark paces the offense at 14.4 points.