From Ozark to Alabama: Sharp-shooting Hannah Cook leaves lasting impact on women's basketballBy James Ogletree | 02/26/2018 3:01pm
As Alabama padded its late lead over the Tennessee Lady Volunteers on Feb. 15, seeking its first win ever in Knoxville, the team’s leading scorer sat on the bench.
For just the fourth time in her four years with the Crimson Tide, Hannah Cook had fouled out.
When a timeout was called with 30 seconds to go, though, she sprang to her feet, high-fived her teammates as they were coming off the floor, and made her way to the center of the huddle. She encouraged her teammates that if they kept playing together, they would make history.
A few minutes later, they did, closing out a moment Cook would call one of the proudest of her career. In the crowd, Cook’s mother, Darla Cook, shed tears of joy.
“I was like, ‘Mom, get it together!’” Hannah Cook said. “[Beating Tennessee] for the first time in Knoxville and making history? That’s incredible to be a part of, and the fact that my parents got to be there? Awesome.”
Alabama coach Kristy Curry has been floored with the sacrifices Darla and David Cook, Hannah’s father, have made to see their daughter play. They both work full-time and have a son still living at home, but still manage to attend most of Hannah Cook’s away games.
David Cook even took a part-time job at an airport during Hannah Cook’s sophomore and junior years of high school so they would be able to afford more flights. Their oldest son and Hannah’s older brother, Easton Cook, was later hired as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, which allows their family to fly for free, anytime and anywhere.
The Cooks are a tight-knit family; David Cook says what makes him the proudest of Hannah is how family-oriented she is, and it means the world to him and Darla Cook that they can watch her play so much.
Hannah and Easton Cook, being the two closest in age out of Darla and David Cook’s four kids, fought like any siblings would. Easton Cook, who is 18 months older, would pick on Hannah and refuse to give her rides to school, driving their parents crazy fighting about other insignificant things.
Now, though, the two are best friends. They FaceTime at least once a week, sometimes more, ranging from 10 to 45 minutes. Hannah’s face lights up when she thinks of their favorite way to communicate.
“It’s almost like we have our own language,” she said. “We quote movies a lot. That is our thing ... We are huge Disney people, we love Jim Carrey, we’re huge Marvel people … We are clowns.”
Their hometown – Ozark, Mo. – has half the population of UA, so needless to say, it isn’t exactly teeming with urban development. There’s a downtown area to do some shopping, and the city finally installed its first movie theater when Hannah was in high school, but she recommends that visitors check out Springfield if they're looking to get any wilder than shopping and a movie.
Hannah doubled over in laughter at the mention of her hometown, but that couldn’t compare to her joy while she described her favorite snack spot: Andy’s Frozen Custard. Andy’s was voted the best thing about the 417 area code, which includes Ozark. When Hannah hears its name, she covers her face and squeals with delight.
“Ooooooooh! I love Andy’s, oh my gosh,” she said with a nostalgic laugh. “There's one in Jonesboro [Arkansas], because when I drive home, it’s eight hours and I pass through Jonesboro, and I have to stop every time. It’s a must.”
Her favorite treat from Andy’s is a Snowmonster Concrete, made of frozen custard mixed with strawberries and melted chocolate chips. Her cover photo on Twitter is of a Snowmonster, and, as a Christmas gift, Darla once gave Hannah a shirt depicting a snow monster ordering a
“I wear it a lot,” Hannah said. “I have no shame. I love that shirt.”
David and Darla Cook both loved to play basketball when they were younger, so it should not come as a surprise that Hannah was already shooting into a Playskool hoop at age two.
When they saw how much she was drawn to the game, they signed her up for an all-boys' parks and rec league, and that’s when they knew their daughter might have a special talent.
“She basically took over,” David Cook said. “She dominated, and we saw it and we thought, ‘Well okay, let’s see where it goes.’”
The more competitive those early games were, Darla Cook said, the more Hannah Cook enjoyed them – probably due to a chip on her shoulder from playing with the boys.
Around sixth grade, Hannah Cook began attending basketball camps at Ozark High School, the city’s only high school. That was when she first caught the eye of Yancey Little.
Little, the current athletic director at Ozark, used to coach girls’ basketball at the school and has worked there for 17 years. He noticed Hannah’s passion for basketball and her competitive drive from the first time he watched her play.
It wasn’t until her freshman year at Ozark, though, that he and his staff realized just how exceptional of a player she could become.
He split his team into two – one team of seniors and juniors, one team of sophomores and freshmen – and a certain tall freshman led her team to an upset victory over the veterans.
“If I remember correctly, Hannah had 18 of the 24 [points] that her team scored,” Little said. “So we knew right there and then that she was going to be a player for us.”
Hannah became a star on the Ozark girls’ basketball team, and started to attract the attention of some Division I colleges like Missouri State, Creighton and Florida Gulf Coast during her junior year.
That summer, Curry was on a recruiting trip with assistant coach Shereka Wright, who convinced her to drive across town to watch a kid from Ozark, Missouri whom Wright was interested in offering a scholarship.
“I loved everything I saw about her ability to shoot the basketball,” Curry said. “She’s just a very respectful, Christian young lady who was raised in a great environment. [She’s] responsible, great character, just someone that you know is the kind of person you want in your program.”
The Cooks were flabbergasted to receive an offer from an SEC program. Having grown up Arkansas Razorbacks fans and living eight hours away from Tuscaloosa, no one was thrilled about the idea. But as time went on, Alabama stayed in the forefront of Hannah’s mind.
Her final three choices were Missouri State because of proximity, Florida Gulf Coast because of the beach, and Alabama. As she considered the pros and cons each school would offer, both during her schooling and after it, the choice became clear.
“Do I want to stay in Springfield [at Missouri State] or do I want to get out of my comfort zone and go see what opportunities there are at Alabama?” she said. “I prayed about it, and I think God led me to Alabama, and I believe it was the better route.”
Hannah Cook’s faith is a crucial part of her life. She often tweets out encouraging Bible verses; her favorite, Luke 1:37 [“For nothing will be impossible with God”], resides both in her Twitter bio and on her graduation cap.
She also wears two white wristbands on her left wrist that say “In Jesus Name I Play”. She bought them three years ago, and wraps them in black tape during games rather than remove them. She cannot remember the last time she took them off.
Her parents, Little, and Curry all agreed it said a lot about Hannah that she wouldn’t take the easy way out. She knew playing SEC basketball would be grueling at times, and she embraced that head-on.
“I think it says something about her confidence level,” David said. “And about her wanting to be a part of something special that she was part of building, rather than coming in here on something that was already high-flying, already established.”
Four years later, Hannah Cook has played in all 127 games of her college basketball career, and has started 97 straight. She has the ninth-most points in program history and the fourth-most three-pointers made. After getting only one SEC offer, she made the most three-pointers in the league last year. Her legacy on the court is nothing if not high-flying and established.
As she looks toward the future, she aspires to work for the SEC Network or ESPN, remaining in the basketball realm in some capacity.
In October, Hannah Cook and sophomore guard Jordan Lewis accompanied Curry to Nashville for SEC Tipoff, a preseason media event featuring all 14 SEC basketball teams. While Paul Finebaum interviewed Curry, Hannah Cook begged associate athletic director of communications Jess Pare to let her call into his show as his biggest fan.
“Then, all of a sudden, Jess is like, ‘Hey, you and Jordan are going on,’” Hannah Cook said. “I was really nervous because I’ve never been on live. When I got on there, I think I got too comfortable... Me and Paul really connected. I call him my best friend now.”
Indeed, Finebaum told Hannah Cook to contact him if she ever had any questions. She has amassed quite an array of contacts in basketball and broadcasting, including Tim Tebow, Laura Rutledge, Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton, and Kentucky men’s coach John Calipari. She also interviewed Villanova coach Jay Wright, who said she was a natural interviewer.
As much as she’d love to be a broadcaster, leaving her playing career – dating back to dribbling in her parents’ basement as a kid – will be brutal, so much so that she might take her talents overseas.
“Playing basketball afterwards is still in the pot, so don’t count that one out yet,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m ready to put up the sneakers.”
Whatever Hannah Cook decides to do next year and beyond, Curry has no doubt she will prosper, saying the legacy she has left everywhere she’s been speaks for itself.
“She’s just been exceptional,” Curry said. “She never says no to anyone, to take a picture or take time for them or go out and speak in the community. She just has such a great heart and she’s such a good example in all areas … I always say it’s the person that makes the player special. With Hannah, it truly has been. She’s been a great role model and a great representation of what we want our program to be about, on and off the court.”
Ozark High School has an athletic hallway, called the “red hallway”, that leads directly into the gym and houses individual accolades and retired jerseys in every sport. Hannah is memorialized there as the team’s all-time leading scorer and the only girls’ basketball player to make All-State three times.
No girls’ basketball jerseys have ever been retired, but Little said Hannah Cook will be the first, and most likely soon.
Two weeks ago, fifth- and sixth-grade basketball players from around the city gathered there for a scrimmage between the junior varsity and varsity teams.
One day, he told them, they could become the types of great players he had coached there, pointing at a few state champion banners on the wall.
One of the young players, a girl with long brown hair and glasses, asked him if he had coached Hannah Cook.
“I told her, ‘Yeah, I was able to coach Hannah,’” Little said. “You could just tell she was like, ‘Wow, I wish I was as good as Hannah Cook someday.’”