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Practice makes close to perfect

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The basketball skills of Greenwood sophomore Holly Hoopingarner are honed in a novel way.

“I’ll lay in bed with the ball and just flip it, flick the wrist and everything, to make sure it is perfect,” she said.

“I’ve been to a bunch of basketball camps, and I learned the form there, so I’ll just practice it in bed.”

It’s all part of her commitment to excellence in all aspects of her game.

The 5-foot 4 point guard is a certified gym rat. She estimated she spends three to four hours per day in the offseason working on her skills, either at the Greenwood gym or on a court at her home. The benefit of all that practice shows during a game.

She has deft ball-handling skills, as she can dribble with either hand, under pressure and while moving. She shoots, catches and holds the ball and passes like a more experienced player.

“I think she’s a Division I player, no doubt,” Greenwood coach Debbie Guckenberger. “I think she will be an Indiana All-Star candidate, as she’s one of the best sophomores in the state.

“I don’t see 11 players that are sophomores being better than her.”

She already is attracting college attention and likely will draw more as her high school and AAU careers progress. She also plays for the Indy Magic AAU team, coached by Justin Blanding.

Hoopingarner leads the Woodmen in scoring at 19.5 points per game. She shoots 45 percent from the field, 52 percent from 3-point range and 81 percent from the free-throw line.

But statistics don’t tell the whole story. She is a crisp passer and is adept at steals and breaking up plays

“I repeat all the ball-handling drills most days to make sure that, when I need to, I don’t have to worry about taking care of the ball,” Hoopingarner said. “I just worry about getting it to my teammates or getting the shot, whatever we need to do.”

Guckenberger agreed that the player’s ability is no accident.

“She’s that kid who stays 30 minutes after practice and then is in here 30 minutes early,” Guckenberger said. “We told the kids to be in here at 10 this morning (for a 12:30 tipoff on a Saturday), and she was in here at 9:30. She is constantly working on her game. She’s that kid who, all fall, was in here every day after school for two hours working on basketball.

“All spring, if she doesn’t have AAU practice, she’s in here working on her skill development. You can tell. She’s got skills out there that a lot of the other kids don’t have.”

‘She’ll go out every day’

Holly’s father, Todd Hoopingarner, recalls his daughter enjoying playing from the time she could hold a basketball and relishing her time as a player on recreational teams at Southport Presbyterian Church.

Her enthusiasm has not waned.

“You could tell she was a natural athlete and really enjoyed basketball,” her father said. “She’ll watch game film or drills on the computer or games on TV and then go out on our court and practice what she’s seen. In the spring, summer and fall she’ll go out every day. She has cones and chairs that she sets up and does her own set of drills, plus practicing free throws and shooting.

“When the weather is good she’s out at least once a day.”

Hoopingarner’s chief motivation is helping the Class 4A Woodmen win games. They are 7-10 overall and 3-3 in the Mid-State Conference and looking to end a two-game losing streak in tonight’s regular-season finale at Greenfield-Central.

Sectional play begins Tuesday at Whiteland. The Woodmen play the tournament-host Warriors in a first-round game.

“There’s nothing like playing with the school team,” Hoopingarner said. “During the season, you’re with them so much, and we’ve created a bond with everybody on the team this year. I love it.

“Coach and I have a great relationship. I trust her, and I know she has great things to give to me to learn.”

‘Very coachable’

Guckenberger said Hoopingarner is a good student whose intensity and work ethic have earned her the respect of her teammates.

“She is a great leader,” Guckenberger said. “She is very coachable. She wants to be critiqued. She constantly asks ‘What can I do to be better?’ The team naturally respects her because of her work ethic so they’re very much respectful from that standpoint.

“She demands a lot from her teammates too. At times they might get a little frustrated, but she’s just trying to make them better. She might say ‘Hey, you’re not cutting very hard.’ It’s almost like having a second coach out there.

“She’s got a great basketball IQ. She’s always thinking one step ahead, whether it’s offense or defense. She’s trying to anticipate where the pass is going to be to get the steal and where the opening’s going to be to get a shot or make a pass. She’s constantly processing the game when she’s playing.”

That’s thanks in large measure because she spends so much time in the film room.

“I’ve been working a lot on my defense lately. I want to be more defense-minded and not just offense,” Hoopingarner said. “Defense can create more offense by getting steals, deflections and that stuff.

“I’ve been watching some stances and putting my hands up more and all that, just to make sure my defense gets better.”

If Hoopingarner has a flaw, it might be that she is, at times, too highly motivated. Guckenberger has to occasionally remind her not to be too hard on herself.

“Sometimes she can critique herself a little too hard. So I might say ‘Hey, you’re fine. You’re going to make some mistakes. You’re still just a sophomore,’” Guckenberger said. “We had a lot of good seniors last year, so she had to fit and kind of be a role player. She’s making that transition now from being a role player to a leader offensively and defensively.

“We ask a lot of her. It’s a lot to carry on a team that has three seniors, and she’s our team leader, so that can be tough, too.”

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