All I Want for Christmas

Supposedly there is an age limit on believing in Santa Claus. We hold instead that the strength of the St. Nick notion relies upon how hard you wish for something come Christmas time. Should that be true, we know for a fact that the Jolly One will be sliding down Sue Bair's chimney in a few nights. She makes no bones about the one thing she wants this holiday: "Bring back the Brooke hook!"

I generally do not make holiday wishes for gifts.  No letters to Santa for me.  I enjoy picking out gifts for my nieces, but aside from the knick-knacks we exchange at work, I don't often receive presents at Christmas time.  This year is different.  This year I am sitting on as many department store Santa's as I can find.  Since the item I covet has been mentioned in more then one Bootleg thread, I believe I am not alone in my Christmas wish.  It's pretty simple: I want the hook back.  Or, The Hooke, or whatever cutesy name we give to Brooke Smith's most glorious offensive weapon.  The hook is rarely spotted these days.  Often times even the woman herself is hard to spot through the tangle of enemy arms and legs.  I miss that hook.  I want it back.

The hook was once a staple of Brooke's and therefore Stanford's offense.  Even with defenses determined to stop it, we'd see at least a few and occasionally many each game.  Lately, Brooke's hook seems to be headed for inclusion on the endangered species list.  What has become of the hook?  In fact, what has become of all those pretty post moves we used to enjoy?  We are getting a few three-pointers instead, but that is not the same.  Anyone can shoot a three, but almost no one can spin those beautiful hooks.

I know defenses are geared to stopping Brooke, but was that not true last year as well?  You may recall prognosticators in the fall of 2005 discussing Stanford by mentioning Candice Wiggins and Brooke Smith, while dismissing the rest of the team to the extent that they did not bother to mention their names.  Maybe they remembered Kristen Newlin a little, but the common wisdom was to shut down Brooke inside and Candice outside, period.  The "don't let them run the offense through Smith" strategy is not a new one.  Hooks happened anyway.  Shots went down at a rate of 57%.  Assists happened, too, totaling 105 last season (averaging three per game), which was third on the team behind Candice (120) and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude (117).

After eight games this season, Brooke is shooting about 47%, with the same three assists per game.  We know defenses are collapsing around her as if she were a black hole in the center of a dying neutron star (but usually without the odd effects on space-time, which only occur during UCLA games), but if it is really so much worse then before, would she not be gaining assists when she does toss the ball to open shooters?  Has it become that much more difficult to get her the ball anywhere close to the basket?  If most of the opposing team has converged around one player, we should be having a field day all over the rest of the court.  It could be that our early lackluster outside shooting and disinclination to shoot has been allowing defenses to avoid getting punished for their hook-halting strategies.  We should see more of our beloved hooks as our outside shooting improves, or at least get some more assists out of the deal.  Even if opposing coaches are making grimly determined efforts not to be the next Sherri Coale, they cannot totally take away a major strength unless we let them.  They won't back off until we make it unprofitable for them.  If squelching hooks unleashes a barrage of baskets from others, the cost of stopping them will skyrocket.  We took economics.  We know this.  We have the tools to accomplish it, too.  If my Christmas wish for a reemergence of the hook requires that our team evolution accelerate, so much the better!  Joy to the world, and all that.

The other issue keeping the hooks from spinning down into opposing baskets seems to be our embarrassment of post riches.  In Jayne Appel, Brooke Smith and Kristen Newlin we have three exceptional posts who could each be our starting center.  When two of them (common) or all three (rare) play together, someone is getting shifted outside.  That someone is generally Brooke, which makes sense, since she is an excellent passer.  Unfortunately this means she hardly ever gets the ball where she can get off a glorious hook, which is the point of this discussion (we are worried about hooking, not winning).  The "Brooke up high" strategy might be the best way to win games, but it is sad to see all those post moves going to waste.  If there was space down low last year when Brooke and Kristen played together, there should be space for whoever is playing together this year, too.  If we can free up one, we ought to be able to free up the others.

I am way too ignorant to understand all the reasons why we have structured our offense as we have, so I will not attempt any further comment except to wonder if three are that much harder to accommodate than two?  Must the absence of the hook be the price we pay for fitting in all our post talent?  Will we almost never see the center with the best moves in perhaps all of basketball make those moves?  At the moment, it appears to be so.  This is one heck of a dilemma - wonderful in its way, but terrible, too.  I'm glad we have it except when I'm worrying that one day I'll be wistfully visiting some sort of museum of extinct post moves to view the fossilized remains of what once was.  I hope I'm not there on a day they host field trips by the busload.

Can we rebuild a habitat hospitable enough for the hook to come out of hibernation for its few remaining collegiate months, or will the convergence of opposition defenses and our offensive schemes choke the life out of the hook?  I refuse to believe the hooks are fading away!  Whatever it takes -  better outside shooting, optimizing our spacing, picture perfect passing, tweaking the offense - we must do it.  We need to create space down low for all our saplings.  We love them all (and all of their shots) and wish to see them thrive.  If the hook has been displaced from its optimum soil, we must rearrange the garden on occasion.  If non-native species in strange colored uniforms have invaded to maul and pummel, we must uproot them.  I would not go as far as mulching, but a little work with a weed wacker wouldn't hurt.  Whether they or we have destroyed the habitat of the hook, it is up to us to restore it.

As one of my golfing buddies likes to remark, after one of our few well-struck shots sails semi-close to the general vicinity of the target, "At least that was aesthetically pleasing."  The hook is incredibly aesthetically pleasing.  Like the lousy round of golf saved by a few well-struck misses, the sight of one of those hooks elevates the level of any game in which it appears.  They are just too much fun to relegate to a dusty corner without a fight.  The other team does not want to see them?  Well too bad, we do!  They should be thankful someone is scoring on them so artfully.  When I've invited friends to come to Stanford games, invariably the hook it what boggles their minds the most.  They appreciate it all, but those old-time hooks win their hearts right away.  Sporting events these days are often ridiculous, like that silly Knicks/Nuggets "brawl."  Excessive hype intrudes everywhere.  The hook provides some of those sublime little moments that enchant jaded sports fans.

I do hope our astute basketball brains can stop the pending hook extinction and make my holiday a bright one.  I do have one little idea, that I hope will be of service.  Is not the next logical step for Brooke a three-point hook?  If she is to lurk up top with the guards, could she not adapt her special gift?  That would boost our outside shooting and bring the hook to an entirely new level.  Let's see ‘em try to stop that!  I bet she could make them too…  Okay, time to trek back out to the mall.  I have a new Christmas wish.  Santa awaits.

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