UD women freshman draws crowd during game

“I don’t want my daughter made into a poster child for controversy,” she said with a bit of an edge in her voice. “She’s just a 19-year-old kid. Please don’t use her as a tool to create controversy.”

Mama need not worry.

A day after those concerns were voiced, at Wednesday’s annual Math Day women’s basketball game at UD Arena, her daughter wasn’t relegated to any unwanted poster. Instead she was celebrated on a large, proudly-held sign that simply said “Andrea 24.”

It was being waved all game long in Section 102 by sixth-grader Zachariah Alexander, who had gotten up early to make his tribute. And once the University of Dayton women tipped off against Charlotte at 11 a.m., he was surrounded by nearly 200 other kids from his Spring Valley Academy, all focused on one special Flyer.

And by game’s end, most of the other 5,800 kids and accompanying adults were focused on No. 24 — Andrea Hoover — as well.

No matter how you added it up on this Math Day (including the game UD won 91-68), the freshman guard from Bellbrook was a star of the show.

She and senior Justine Raterman each had 18 points to lead UD, but Hoover’s effort was especially eye-catching because she mixed long-range 3-pointers with hard-nosed drives to the basket and contortionist shots — “really tough shots, acrobatic shots, circus shots,” coach Jim Jabir called them — and the same in-your-face defense that her teammates played.

In this 16-5 Flyers season, it was yet another installment by Hoover in what is becoming one of the best freshman seasons in UD women’s hoop history. She has started 17 of 21 games and is second on the team in scoring (10.3 points per game), rebounding (5.1) and steals (27 total).

“Hoover is an interesting kid ... I just love her,” Jabir said. “She just loves to play. She’s not aware of a lot of the other stuff around her. She doesn’t get caught up in a lot of the superfluous stuff. She’s not emotional, not needy, not full of drama.”

And when you’ve been in her situation that’s not always been easy to do.

Terri Hoover might not have wanted her daughter posterized, but some other folks didn’t have such reservations.

Spring Valley, where Hoover was a much-beloved student just a year ago and is its only Division I college basketball player ever, is a small Seventh Day Adventist college preparatory school in Centerville.

The sports teams there — in accordance with the Seventh Day Adventist faith — don’t play games on the Sabbath, which is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

An extraordinary basketball talent (as well as a devout Christian who believes she is “honoring Jesus with the basketball talent he has given me”), she also played AAU basketball for the Ohio Attack and often traveled and played on the Sabbath in years past.

It didn’t become an issue with some folks until she became a highly-sought college prospect and committed, as a junior, to play for the Flyers.

Suddenly her faith and how she practices it became a lot of other people’s business. Most people supported her basketball journey, a few did not and some became vocal about it.

“Unfortunately Andrea got a lot of flak from some people,” Jabir said. “She went through a lot, but she always took (the high road).”

The same issues are being faced now by Jermaine Lawrence, a 6-foot-9 junior prep sensation in New York who is also a Seventh Day Adventist. He’s being recruited by several major colleges, including Xavier, and last month he became such an unwanted poster child of debate that he abruptly left his high school and went to another that is not a basketball power.

A generation ago Magic Johnson — raised a Seventh Day Adventist — faced similar decisions.

“I’m a person who wants to avoid conflict at all costs and it was rough there for a while,” Hoover said quietly. “I love my church and all the people and don’t want to hurt anyone. Most support me and those who don’t? Well, we agree to disagree.

“I believe I can honor God every day of the week with the gift he has given me. I think people can tell I’m a Christian by the way I carry myself and act on the court — helping players up, not cursing or slamming the ball, showing respect — and I think that’s practicing your faith, too.

“I think there are a lot of ways to love and honor Jesus and show just how great he is.”

Turned down Stanford

Like her two older brothers, Hoover was home schooled through grade school, then went to Spring Valley.

Although the school is not known for its athletics (it offers just a few sports, is not a member of the Ohio High School Athletic Association and has trouble scheduling local teams), Andrea’s talent was so pronounced that she was playing varsity as an eighth- grader and soon was leading the program to new heights.

“In the beginning, though, I never thought about being a college basketball player,” she said. “When you go to Spring Valley no one ever talks about playing college basketball.”

But once she joined the Attack, she showed she could hold her own against some of the best in the nation. Although that began to draw some national interest, she said she didn’t like the flirtations of the recruiting process.

“She likes to be under the radar,” her mother said. “She’s very uncomfortable being the center of attention and the red carpet treatment that comes with recruiting made her uncomfortable.”

That worked in UD’s favor. The Flyers had begun recruiting her before anyone else and she felt so comfortable with the school and the coaches that she turned her back on programs like Stanford — which came to Spring Valley to recruit her.

“It was kind of funny,” Jabir said. “One of her last (AAU) games (after she had committed), I was sitting there watching her play and a lot of people still didn’t know her.

“A Vanderbilt assistant was sitting next to me and after she’d been watching Andrea a while, I see her take out her phone and start Googling her to find out more about her.

“I never said a word, I just sat there kind of giggling and the next thing she ends up punching me in the arm when she realized Andrea was coming to us. They loved her, too. Andrea could have gone almost anywhere.”

A loyal following

Wednesday morning at UD Arena, everyone saw much of Hoover‘s talent on display.

And no one was watching more closely than the contingent from Spring Valley. For the first time the school sent its entire student body — kindergarten through eighth grade — to join the Math Day kids from 45 other Miami Valley schools in what ends up being a party-like atmosphere that sprinkles a bit of schoolwork around a college basketball game.

The Spring Valley students — wearing blue or gold T-shirts that said “Know ... Follow ... Share ... Jesus” on the backs — commandeered all of Sections 101 and 102, putting them next to the players’ tunnel and UD bench and within shouting distance of their hero.

Thanks to Hoover, three of the Spring Valley students served as ball girls for the Flyers. Another student was part of a winning halftime challenge and a third — seen by all on the overhead video boards as he correctly answered a math question — won a pizza for himself and his friends.

“This has been good for all of our students today,” said Spring Valley vice principal Kari Schebo. “They’ve had fun and they all love seeing Andrea.”

Actually, Hoover has quite a following — students from her high school, former teachers, many from her church congregation, including her pastor — at every game.

“This is a huge deal for the school, they’ve never had anyone play on the Division I level before,” Terri Hoover said. “It’s really drawn a lot of our whole community together.”

And Wednesday as Zachariah waved his sign and the kids in the “Know and Follow” shirts cheered her every move, Andrea — who said she knew almost all of the Spring Valley students — seemed to feed off that on the court.

“I was feeling it out there today,” she said. “This ... was great.”

No more poster child, she was just “Andrea 24.”