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By Peter Hooley | THAT moment. The years of preparation, the mindset and the delivery

Preface by Janx......

Be it playing in the Championship game with a 100 million looking on like Luke Schenscher (Luke's blog), going from virtual unknown to maybe the leading player in the country by leading U18/U20/National School Championships in scoring like Isaac White (Isaac's blog), playing in a national NAIA Championship like Daniel Carlin (Daniel's blog), winning an NIT like Nicole Seekamp (Nicole's blog) elite performers in any endeavor spend hours training, working, educating and learning to prepare for THAT moment. Like our featured athletes the journey to THAT moment includes setbacks, challenges and adversity that see most of us give up. The challenge is we never know what that moment will be, when it will come or whether we will even succeed. But we prepare, we learn, we work, we dream, we strive. For most of us it should be the journey that is the most important because THAT moment may not come, but sometimes THAT moment is so big, so significant that, THAT moment is maybe just as big as the journey. Peter Hooley has experienced one of those moments in his life so far.

I first met Pete playing in the traditional, end of season, exhibition game of current students vs former student at Concordia College. This was during the golden years of Concordia College basketball when they were beginning to be regularly winning or competing for State and National titles. Of course us former students would not have a bar of it. It was a fun day but it is also fair to say it was a beatdown but I remember a small kid battling hard, not being intimidated, moving so well, with a lot of love for the game. That was Peter Hooley. We kept in touch, Peter began to grow into an elite player in South Australian junior basketball, and when Matt Dodson, a good friend of mine, was visiting a couple years later to recruit for his TOP pro club the Artland Dragons, in Germany, Peter ended up on his target list. After some conversations Peter had to withdraw from the mix for family reasons and 2 other SA athletes took up the offer.

PICTURE: The Concordia old Collegians vs current students match. Peter #22 towards the right, Janx #8 on far left.

A short time later (maybe 3-6 mths) we had a chat about him heading to some school I had never heard of before called University at Albany, they were a D1 school so I figure to myself maybe it was a good thing he did not head to Germany. 4 years later I was convinced he made the right decisions when he helped Albany get to multiple NCAA tournaments and that MOMENT which I hope he will share some insights on with us all. Pete has cemented himself into South Australian Basketball to US college folklore with his college success. He killed it against BIG TIME schools like Duke, Syracuse and Oklahoma in the Big Dance and put Albany on the map of American College Basketball both in the States and in Australia. He continues to kill it in the tough SEABL league, leading his team, the Ballarat Miners, in scoring at the moment. Like Albany did during his time there, Ballarat are a winning program this year currently sitting in 2nd spot in the SEABL. Peter is a proven winner, his U20 South Australian Coach Tony Casella describes him;

"Peter is an intense competitor, he loves the pressure and to compete against the best. His ability to score in a variety of different ways and defend elite guards at U20 Nationals in 2011 was remarkable". I remember that tournament and the faith Tony had in Hooley, at a time others may not have. This helped Hooley take it to the next level, and that faith was rewarded for the team with a medal in both U20 years that they worked together, off the back of outstanding performances by Hooley.

PICTURE: Peter played U20 State for South Australia as a bottom and top ager in a very successful period of the program.

One of the featured athletes on this site that I also coached, Brent Hank (Brent's blog), is heading over there to University at Albany to play and attend school. Brent will continue the South Australian to Albany tradition being built. The coaches tell me Hooley is like a hero in the town of Albany and his mark on the program and community there will last forever.

What is just as impressive is when you talk to other opposition NCAA coaches about Peter. Many of you know who he is for that moment, as well as the challenges overcame through his time at Albany, but it is his values and human qualities that come through to all that know or speak with him. They say things like this; "We had a coaches vs. cancer event last week and Peter Hooley was one of the guest speakers. He was nothing short of amazing to say the least!" and many more nice things about his character and values.

Anyway, here is THAT moment:

VIDEO: The shot. THAT moment, with full commentary telling the story.

PICTURE: One of the most enduring images. If you know the story, you understand the picture.

I hope Peter can share some insights on the preparation (through his whole life to that point), mindset in THAT moment and succeeding in THAT moment that we can ALL learn from. As an Assistant Coach from University of Albany has told me "His story is incredible to begin with but he is also a talented writer. Has even published work in the NY Post which I have hanging in my office here at Albany". Coach is so right, after reading this blog, it kept me on the edge of my seat. I am told Pete plans to write his memoirs at some stage. As such I've suggested he hold out a bit for us all so we can wait to read the rest when those memoirs are released.

Over to Peter......

Basketball for me was always something that I enjoyed, but it was something that I always struggled with. Unless I was playing in the old scholars game for Concordia College against Jantke himself, I was always just a footnote in basketball. I was never the fastest, strongest, best shooter or any thing like that. I was just a country kid who loved playing the game. Looking back on where basketball started for me, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought the sport would take me to where I am today, but perhaps bigger than that, to make me the person I am today.

The Early Days

PICTURE: Like all of our featured athletes Peter developed a loved for the game but was not naturally dominant at a young age. He had to work hard.

Growing up on a farm in the Adelaide Hills, basketball was always something my twin sister and I did for fun instead of doing chores on the farm. We both grew up playing for Eastern Mavericks, as it was geographically the perfect fit for us to play. I have no trouble admitting that my sister was always better than me growing up. From playing 1 on 1 in the backyard, to her being picked for numerous state teams, she was a terrific player. However, that isn’t quite how things went for me. My whole extended family were footy players through and through, and pretty good ones at that. So I was left juggling footy as well as basketball for as long as I could.

Whether I was too slow or not good enough, for four years straight starting at U14’s, I found myself missing the cut for state teams each year. Junior National Champs always seemed like a great thing to be a part of, but I never had the chance to do it. I would travel with my family to the tournament to cheer on my sister, and then watch the boys play on the side. During this time, I had been part of the SASI program for a couple of years, but after I got cut from the State program for my second year, I lost my invite into that group as well. After being cut for the third straight year, I really thought that my chances of making a nationals were over, and it was definitely something I battled with. Obviously when you’re young and all you friends are going to these tournaments and playing at a higher level than you, it gets harder to handle each time.

If it wasn’t for me sister consistently making these teams and me having to watch her play in the tournaments each year, I may have never had the drive to continue to chase it.

The Turning Point

Whilst school basketball in Australia is miniscule in comparison to the level it is played at in the U.S. School basketball for me was something that helped me keep my love for the game. My PE teacher and coach at the time was former Sturt Sabres player David Shepherd, who was undoubtedly the main reason I wanted to keep playing basketball. During the school knockout tournament in my last high school year, we managed to do something that had never been done for Concordia College. Definitely not the most talented team, we managed to get to the final and stamp our place in the school nationals by winning our first ever school knockout title. (side note, Concordia went on to win four more consecutive titles).

I moved to Norwood Flames in U16’s and my sister moved to Sturt. Arguably the biggest rivalry in the SA League’s was now part of my own family. I then found myself in Division 2 at Norwood, coached by Tim Berry, while his brother Pete, coached D1. It wasn’t until they decided that I deserved a chance in the division 1 side that I realized I had some potential to go somewhere with this game. From there I managed to make the SA Country national team as a top age, and go on to making the SA team for both years as an U20.

The Next Step

I had never been invited to an Australian Camp and never even thought about heading to the US. I always saw myself, at the best, of playing for the Adelaide 36ers when I grew up. After I had started to have some success during my U18 years, I started to talk to my family about the possibility of going to college in the states, but it was more of an empty talk rather than anything I could actually do. I always prided myself on doing well at school. My years at Concordia College, I believe provided a strong base for what would eventually transpire for me academically. However, I never thought that would eventuate in America.

My family and I had hired a scouting service to help get my sister and my name out to colleges in the US and see if anything was going to work out. I had always planned to go to a JUCO or a D2 school at the most as I just wanted to play and get the college experience. Unfortunately, the only thing to come out of that was a loss of a few thousand dollars and us never hearing from the guy again… After that, I thought that the idea of me going to college was gone for good.

Playing U20’s in Maitland, NSW, I went in with the mindset that I was going to enjoy my last year of playing for my state and try to win a medal. We managed to get Bronze, and after the tournament, an email popped up in my inbox, simply titled; “University of Albany, NY”. I remember reading it and immediately calling dad and telling him that they had expressed interest in me after how I had played. Right after I hung up the phone, the head coach of the U19 Australian Emu’s team was behind me and he pulled me aside to offer me an invite to the upcoming Aus Camp.

What went from having no option to go to the US or play at any higher level had just opened two doors for me in the matter of a week.

I spent the rest of my year in Adelaide training with the 36ers under coach Marty Clarke, as I prepared to go away for college. That was a tough time, living in Hahndorf, it took me about 45 minutes to get to training each day, whilst trying to juggle work as well just to have some money in my pocket. Having said that, I think it was the perfect preparation I needed for the next step in my career.

Most people nowadays are gifted with many different college offers or basketball decisions in their life. Whether they have offers from a lot of schools, maybe a professional pathway or whatever it may be, my choice was the hardest of all.

As most people are aware of, three months before I was to leave to start my college career, my Mum was diagnosed with cancer. The news of that had flooded my mind and my life. The only thing I wanted to do was be by her side until she had beat it. I had never had any real successes in basketball to ever believe anything could eventuate that great for me, so I wanted to give it all away. Everything else was secondary at this point. I told her I didn’t want to go to college anymore, I would rather be with her. But she forced me onto the plane. She said that I needed to go, if not for me then for her. So I did.

The Hardest Choice

Albany wasn’t my only choice for a college, but it seemed to be a perfect fit for me. Luke Devlin who is from Sydney had already been there a year, and Sam Rowley was signed to arrive when I was. To have that Aussie side together on the other side of the world played a big role in helping me decide to sign there.

I managed to have a good pre season and was playing some good basketball, which I think took a lot of people (including the coaches) by surprise. I never looked the part, and no one had ever seen me actually play, so I felt some pressure on my shoulders to prove that they had made the right choice in offering me a scholarship. A couple of months in, and the homesickness started to hit me harder and harder each day. Enough so, that my Dad, Mum and Grandma decided to fly over to visit me for my first home game of my freshman year.

The week before our home opener, we played against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in front of 18,000 people. While my family was mid flight to New York, I contested a Dion Waiters shot and awkwardly landed on my foot and fractured it. I spent the next few hours leaving endless voicemails to them while they were in the air, trying to get a hold of them to let them know what had happened. When they finally touched down, I delivered them the news that I had broken my foot and would have to miss my entire first season.

This shattered me. I have always been an emotional guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, but I couldn’t see me getting past this point. I was playing some of the best basketball of my life up until that point, and then this happened. My assistant coach at the time, Jeremy Friel, pulled me immediately into his office and said,

“Congrats, you just got a 5th year of eligibility,” in hopes to raise my spirits.

But I couldn’t think positively at that point.

If it wasn’t for my mum being in the hospital with me and saying this one thing to me, I may never have been able to fully recover from that. She turned to me and said

“If I can get through this chemo, this treatment, and still stay strong and smile as I move forward, then you can get through this.”

PICTURE: Peter with his Mum (Sue) and Sister (Emma). During the challenging injury Peter suffered Pete's mother continues to keep him going, and going STRONG.

The Great Danes

PICTURE: in 2013 Peter played fabled Duke University in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament, dropping 13 pts and unfortunately only losing by only 12 pts.

Albany became a second home for me pretty quickly during my time there. Whether it was the success on the basketball court, or in the classroom, or the relationships I had gained with some of the players and coaches, it was a place I felt comfortable at away from home. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to have a type of relationship I did with a coach, but the one I had at Albany was unlike anything else. From my lowest points, I was helped up and from my highest points, I was kept grounded, and for that I’m forever grateful.

In terms of basketball, we managed to win three consecutive conference championships and play in the NCAA tournament each time. Something I grew up supporting (a Duke Blue Devil fan) was something I was now able to be part of. The first year we won, we got selected to match up against, who else, but Duke and Coach K. Stepping out on the court, lining up against Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee etc, was a pretty cool feeling for a small country boy from a South Australian Farm. I managed to put my nerves aside and play pretty decently on one of the biggest stages in the country, yet ultimately we lost by about 9 points. The following year, we were matched up with overall #1 seed, Florida. Boasting players such as Scottie Wilbekin, Patrick Young and Casey Prather, we fought the whole way. Getting to within 2 points with under 4 minutes remaining, we eventually ended up losing by about 8. The last trip to the NCAA tournament however, was a bit different…

THAT Moment

Throughout my whole college career, while my mum was battling cancer, I always knew there was a slight possibility I may have to head home at any point, but I was naïve to it actually happening.

Sitting at a perfect conference record, 4-0, and having a good non-conference prior to that, our team was looking good to record our 3rd straight championship. However, in mid January, I got a call from Dad and all he said as he fought back tears was,,,

“I’d never tell you to come home, but things don’t look good here, son”

Thanks to Coach and the team, I flew out the next morning and spent two weeks by my mum’s bedside in hospital before she passed away. One thing I will never forget is that she made me promise to finish what I had started in the US, so I knew I had to go back at some point. I could write a whole blog about what Coach Brown did for me during my time at college and how he helped me, so without going on too much, a simple thank you to him doesn’t suffice for what he did. My mum’s funeral was the day before my sister and my 23rd birthday, and for a guy who has never had a problem speaking, my eulogy was the hardest thing I ever did.

A week later and my family took me back to the US to finish my promise. Coach helped me ease back into the team (who had still not lost a game) and helped me get my feet back. We made it to the championship game, which was undoubtedly the most nervous I had ever been, and probably ever will be, for a game. I wanted to win that championship for my Mum more so than anything else. I’m normally not one to get nervous for a big game, but this was different. I probably slept for 2 hours at the most the night before. Before I left to head to the gym, I had read a letter that my Mum had given to me before I came to college to start that year, and it basically told me that I could do anything I put my mind to. But it was the last thing on the back page that helped me know I was ready. Right there on the back, traced in pencil, was my Mum’s hand, and written inside were the words…

“If you ever need a hand to hold, I’m always here. I love you, Son”

I placed my hand over hers, whispered some words, then closed the letter and put it back in its envelope… I had never been more ready.

What was probably the worst 39 minutes of basketball anyone could ever watch – the final minute was what I like to call my “forever miracle”.

On a Saturday morning in a packed Albany gym, with 1.6 seconds to go, down 2 points to Stony Brook, an errant rebound had found its way in my hands at the top of the 3 point line in the middle of the court. As I caught it, my mind went completely blank. I just let it fly. For that brief moment as the ball sailed through the air, everything was completely silent to me. Everything stopped for what felt like an eternity. The ball, the players, my mind and my heart, moved ever so slowly, as I watched that ball curve into the bottom of the net and give us our 3rd consecutive championship.

Picture: That shot again. So many of us back home, and all over the world, watched in awe at Peter's shot and challenges he had to overcome to get there.

The Future

Since my time at college, I have been lucky enough to live a life I never could have dreamt. I was picked to be the commencement speaker for our graduation, in charge of sending off our entire graduating class with some insightful worlds. Public speaking has never been my forte, but as I stood on that podium in front of 15,000 people, I felt completely calm.

VIDEO: Hooley's amazing commencement speech. This kid never does things with a half arsed approach! THIS IS A MUST WATCH!!!

I am definitely blessed to have walked away from college with 2 Bachelors Degrees, a Master’s degree, 3 championship rings and a million memories. Albany will forever be part of my life.

Picture: Hooley did not only lead U of Albany to so much success, with outstanding performances, but according to the coaches and players he impacted the community forever.

From there I managed to play basketball for my country in the World University Games and play professionally in both England and now in the SEABL in Victoria. I have had some troubles along the way that have made me doubt whether basketball is the right path for me, but I have pushed through. Family has always been my number one priority, so the fact I can now be home, after seven years away, is an awesome feeling. I want to chase my basketball dream as far as it can take me. I want to play in the NBL and one day play for my country. Once you’ve spent years out of the country, you get the real sense of how amazing it is to live in Australia once you’re back in it. I'm going to continue to work harder than I ever have to get to where I want. Because after all, that's the only thing I know how to do

So after all these years, I found myself here. Basketball is still something I love, but it still comes with it’s ups and downs. However, perhaps more than any accomplishment I have managed to achieve on the court, it is the overall journey that basketball has taken me on that I really focus on. It’s taken me to so many different places and taught me so much as a person than I could ever have fathomed. It’s given me hundreds of close teammates, unique relationships with coaches and even helped lead me to finding my girlfriend at college at a time when I needed someone the most.

My Mum used to always teach me how the most important thing in life is not how you feel, but how you make others feel. So I think back to every moment she made me feel the happiest I have ever been, and that leads me to wanting to do the same for others.

My Mum used to preach to my sister and I that making others happy was the best thing in the world, and whatever path we wanted to follow in our life, that we always remembered that. With this in mind, throughout the last eight years, I believe I have learnt a unique way to live life. I have witnessed some unbelievable highs, but I have been crushed with its devastating lows, yet I remained grounded and focusing on those little things. I used to think that I was only ever happy when I was playing really good basketball or doing really well at something, but now I find that my success on the court derives from how I am living off it. The love for life and the ability to respect how fragile and unpredictable it is, helps me each day. I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for me. As I sit back and look at everything, it becomes ever so clear that what I have been through and who I have become, I was never making my own path, but I was following my Mum’s.

So for now, to be living back here, playing the sport I love and grew up on, with my family close and partner by my side, I can safely say that I am content.

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