Junior basketball player Derek Hoot thriving at Illinois

By Thomas Polcyn

After nearly two months of preparation, the Illini men’s wheelchair basketball team is finally set to begin this year’s campaign. The team will travel to Southwest Minnesota State this weekend for a tournament.

One player in particular that is looking forward to getting started is Derek Hoot. The junior is originally from Madison, Wisconsin area, but decided to attend Illinois because of its wheelchair basketball program and strong academic reputation.EJ

On the court, Hoot is a small forward: he fills a mixed role of scoring, rebounding and stout defense. Although he plays a different position, he really admires Golden State Warriors point guard and NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

“He is not really my position, but I love Steph Curry,” Hoot said. “I love the way he plays, and I love the energy that he plays with.”

Position differences aside, both Curry and Hoot love to shoot the ball. Curry is typically known for his superior outside shooting from the point, while Hoot is normally a post player that finds his looks around the blocks.

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Hoot began his basketball career in seventh grade when he was approached at a clinic to play for a wheelchair basketball team called the Mad City Badgers. He ended up playing for five years for the Badgers and then Hoot began playing for a men’s team called the Milwaukee Bucks, which he still occasionally plays with in the offseason.

Hoot has a prosthetic leg and does not use a wheelchair for everyday purposes, which is why he at first thought he would not be eligible to play wheelchair basketball.

“As an amputee I didn’t know that was an option available to me,” Hoot said. “I went to a practice and since then I’ve just continued playing.”

He was recruited to play for the Illini during his junior year of high school and was immediately sold on Illinois’ academics and the wheelchair basketball program. Since then he has not looked back.

Hoot said he has a huge focus on school where he studies political science with a minor in Arabic studies. Working toward the Arabic studies minor, he has already taken advantage of the study abroad program by spending six weeks in Morocco over the summer. In addition to that trip, he is considering making another one to Jordan to study its dialect because of its relevancy to Arabic law.

Hoot doesn’t know what he wants his concentration to be, but he is pursuing some sort of career in law. He is planning on taking the L-SAT in June and is looking at studying pre-law at Illinois.

Hoot and the team have some high goals set for this season, but with enough work they think they can be very successful.

“It is going to be a challenge starting off,” he said. “We have a totally new team dynamic after graduating three starters last year. As the season goes on we’re going to be a much stronger team and when we gain some chemistry we will be a very cohesive unit. We’re all excited this weekend the preseason has been really long. We just want to get on the court.”

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