Hooper, key player on Dayton’s NCAA runner-up team, dies at 77

Guard from Lees Creek, Ohio, made famous shot during 1967 tournament run



Bobby Joe Hooper, the second-leading scorer for the Dayton Flyers in the season they reached the NCAA championship game, died on Thursday at 77.

Hooper, a 6-foot guard from Simon Kenton High School, where he was coached by his father Vern, grew up in Lees Creek, Ohio, near Wilmington. He joined coach Don Donoher’s roster at Dayton in 1964. His roommate in his first year at school was another freshman, Don May. Neither played that first season because freshmen were not allowed on the varsity team in those years.

“A great deal of UD’s immediate basketball future is housed in that particular room,” Ritter Collett wrote in the Journal Herald in February 1965. “Not only are Don and Bobby Joe two of the brighter performers on an above-average frosh squad, they’re both of the ‘All-American boy’ mold that helped make the university’s basketball program the popular item it is.”

Two seasons later, as juniors, May and Hooper were the top two scorers for the most famous team in UD history. The Flyers finished 25-6 in the 1966-67 season and beat Western Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and North Carolina before losing to UCLA in the national championship game.

Hooper got the tournament run started by hitting a 20-foot shot with four seconds left to beat Western Kentucky 69-67 in overtime in the first round. The game was tied with 36 seconds remaining after a basket by Clem Haskins. Hooper brought the ball up the court and called timeout.

According to a report by Bill Clark, of the Dayton Daily News, Hooper told Donoher in the huddle, “Give me the ball coach; I’ll put it in the hole.”

“And he sure did,” Donoher told Clark.

Clark wrote, “Hooper passed in from out of bounds to (Gene) Klaus. Klaus returned the ball to Hooper and he dribbled off to his right. Then Bobby leaped and pushed the ball through the basket for the deciding points.”

In 2021, the Dayton Daily News ranked Hooper’s shot as the second-greatest last-second shot in school history.

Hooper averaged 9.5 points as a sophomore, 11.7 as a junior and 15.2 as a senior when Dayton won the NIT championship. He ranks 44th in school history with 1,059 points.

Hooper’s name also appears in the UD record book because of his free-throw accuracy. He ranks fifth in career free-throw percentage (83.5, 223 of 267). He set a school record by making 34 straight free throws in the 1965-66 season. That record has since been broken by three players.

Collett revisited his 1965 story about May and Hooper after their final games in 1968. Hooper, then a team captain, put his career in perspective.

“I worried about being a starter even this year,” Hooper said. “I’ve always been that way. You know one of my big thrills in coming to Dayton was when coach Donoher asked me if I’d like to room with Donnie. Here I was, a country boy, coming in with a player who had made all-state. He was somebody I could look up to. And playing one year with Hank Finkel was a wonderful experience. In a way, I can’t get over how lucky I’ve been.”

Hooper was inducted into the UD Hall of Fame in 1989. He was named to UD’s all-century team in 2004.

Hooper was drafted in the eighth round (No. 100 overall) by the New York Knicks in 1968. He instead decided to sign with the Indiana Pacers, who were then in the American Basketball Association.

“Being realistic about the situation, I think I’ll have the better chance to play with the Pacers,” Hooper told the Dayton Daily News in June 1968. “New York is young with an awfully lot of talent at the guards and forwards. And I think a smaller guard like me can play in the ABA.”

Hooper played in 54 games as a rookie, averaging 5.0 points. He broke his hand in February 1969 and missed the rest of his rookie season. He first injured the hand a year earlier while playing with Dayton in the NIT. He did not return to the league.

In 1969, Hooper joined Donoher’s staff as a part-time assistant coach. He was elevated to full-time assistant in 1970. Hooper later worked as an assistant coach with the Pacers.

Hooper worked as a coach and teacher at Clinton-Massie High School. He also became a pastor in the 1980s. He was an assistant pastor at the Marshall Road First Church of God in Kettering when Dayton Daily News columnist Tom Archdeacon wrote about him in 1991.

“I don’t try to be something I’m not anymore,” Hooper said. “I don’t try to parade myself and my basketball past. Nor do I try to pretend I’m the pastor I’m not. I am not eloquent. Not a very learned man. I’ve never had a bible class or a seminar. I’m a simple man looking at people through simple eyes. I just feel the Lord has touched me.”

According to his obituary, “Bobby volunteered for Hospice of Clinton County and Ross County. He also enjoyed attending Real Joy Community Fellowship church in Chillicothe, Ohio. A graveside service at Sugar Grove Cemetery will be held at the convenience of the family.

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