Jay Hook doesn’t need to see the scouts or the television cameras to know what the next week means.
The former Tulane shooting guard went through his first two professional practices this week as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans’ summer league and had Green Wave basketball coach Ed Conroy beaming with excitement.
In an era of Division I college basketball that sees more than 50 percent of freshmen and sophomores transfer out of their programs, mostly because of a lack of playing time, Hook never strayed from Tulane. Despite seeing the Green Wave’s roster churn teammates in and out of the program and rarely seeing the court in his first two seasons, Hook stuck with Tulane, and it paid off.
The sharpshooter set the school record for 3-pointers made in a season and is the first player from Tulane on an NBA court for the first time since Linton Johnson’s career ended in 2008. Hook will travel with the Pelicans to open the Las Vegas summer league against the Milwaukee Bucks at 5 p.m. Friday.
“It’s hard to express what it means to me and to us, to see Jay earn this opportunity for himself,” Conroy said. “We talk every day about individual development, and everyone will say they want to get better — but it takes a certain mental toughness to critique yourself and find ways to improve. He always stayed positive and was always willing to do what was necessary to keep improving.
“You get into coaching so you can coach guys like Jay Hook and hopefully have some small impact on him. I couldn’t be happier to see him get this chance.”
While Hook is a long shot to make the team’s full roster, considering nearly the entire Pelicans roster is expected to return from the 2014-15 season, this week serves as an audition for the rest of his professional career. Las Vegas gyms will be packed with scouts and general managers, from not only the NBA and the NBA’s Developmental League, but also high-end teams from Europe and beyond.
Their scouting reports will center on Hook’s ability to shoot from the perimeter, but he also wants them to see a more well-rounded aspect of his game and personality.
“I just need to show my energy level is never going to be an issue, and that’s one thing I can totally control,” Hook said. “Obviously, I need to make shots, because that’s why I’m here. But at the same time, I need to take advantage of any chances on defense that arise. If I can make a few steals, grab a few rebounds or just get on the floor to get a loose ball, that looks good to anybody.”
The majority of participants in summer league are in Hook’s position, seeking out a high profile place to show off their skills. But he’s one of just two rookies on the Pelicans squad (along with Iowa State’s Bryce Dejean-Jones), surrounded by a group that has played professionally for multiple seasons.
But Hook said he’s not intimidated by the surroundings and is instead relishing the opportunity.
It didn’t hurt to look in the stands of his first NBA practice and see Tulane’s entire coaching staff there silently rooting him on. Conroy was joined by assistants Anthony Wilkens and Quannas White, watching Hook go through drills Tuesday afternoon on Airline Drive.
“It feels good, because this feels like home. And I can just look up there, and I see their support,” Hook said. “In the back of my head, I can hear them saying some stuff. Even though they didn’t say anything, I could still hear it just by the way they look. It was funny how that happens, and it was awesome having them here.”
Hook considers himself a representative of Tulane and believes his performance can help sway NBA programs into looking at Green Wave players as more legitimate prospects in the future. Conroy said his blossoming friendship with Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps, along with the increased visibility of the American Athletic Conference, has helped open some doors.
“Ed Conroy and I have developed a friendly relationship over the past few years,” Demps said. “Coach Conroy has a good basketball mind, and I believe we have both benefitted from the exchanging of ideas and strategies.”
Now, it’s up to Hook to make the most of his shot.
“He epitomizes everything we want our guys to be,” Conroy said. “He never took the easy route and fought his way into this spot. There were doubts about him, and he battled through injuries. And no matter what, he kept a positive attitude and never backed down. So I don’t expect him to start doing that now.”