Benton High School. Missouri Western State University. Central High School.
Next for the seasoned coach? St. Joseph Christian High School.
Neal Hook grew up in the St. Joseph area. He played basketball on the South Side and then spent three and a half years playing at Missouri Western. His senior season in 1989 was Tom Smith’s first year as head coach of the Griffons.
After graduating, Hook took an assistant coaching job at Central and stayed on the coaching staff for 22 years, spending his last 12 as head coach of the Indians’ boys basketball coach. He also spent time teaching math and coaching football, baseball and tennis, but it always came back to basketball.
After a dozen years at the helm of the program, Hook had a new opportunity at Central.
He was hired as activities director in 2012, an administrative role. In the St. Joseph School District, administrators cannot be coaches. He stayed in that position until 2014 where he was then hired as assistant principal.
Hook said he had to supervise games as an administrator but always found himself still coaching at basketball games.
“After coaching it for 22 years, it’s still in your blood,” Hook said. “I’d catch myself sitting up in the stands coaching different techniques and qualities that the players could improve on, but it’s so nice to watch and learn from a different perspective.”
Hook sat in the stands to keep an eye on the crowd — and he used it as a chance to improve his coaching style.
]Now, after his break from coaching, Hook is back. He is still employed at Central High School as assistant principal until the end of June in order to oversee summer school, but he has already begun coaching the boys basketball team at St. Joseph Christian.
“He’s the whole package — he’s got tons of experience, lots of wisdom, and the heart to go with it,” said Nicki Carlson, St. Joseph Christian athletic director.
Hook is working on building chemistry between him and the players during evening league play in Benton and morning workouts.
Hook knows what the players returning to the Lions after a 9-17 season are going through since he has been through coaching changes before.
In his eight years of basketball, Hook said he played for six different coaches. He had three coaches in high school and three in college — two of which were in his three and a half years at Missouri Western.
Hook played for Skip Shear for two seasons before Smith took over for the 1988-89 season at MWSU.
“I think that helps me to understand how to make that change and some of the expectations and pressures that it can put on a player in a short amount of time,” Hook said.
That’s what the evening league and morning workouts are for. Hook said he wants to help relieve some of those pressures before the season starts by solidifying that bond.
“That’s what we’re working on right now — that transition,” Hook said. “Being able to learn a different system, get to know the kids, build that team chemistry — those are all key factors for what we’re working on.”
Hook said he has one philosophy that will stay consistent through his basketball years: Play smart, play hard, play together.
There’s a lot more to the sport than winning some basketball games for Hook, though. As a coach, he said he wants the players to get more than basketball skills out of it.
“I definitely want to provide the players with the best positive life experience I can through basketball, and I want to teach fundamentals,” Hook said. “I want them to be able to be prepared as they seek different endeavors outside of basketball, and I think this sport allows you to develop those qualities that hopefully allow you to be successful in the future.”
One thing Hook said he appreciated out of coaching was the relationships he’s built with the players. He still talks on the phone with former players to hear about their families and lives now.
“A lot of the times the conversation goes back to a certain game or moment during the season that we had together,” Hook said.
No one moment stood out to Hook more than any other. He said every year is different and every accolade and district title is something to be excited about and a memory for later.
But for now, Hook hopes to keep making memories.
“I’ve still got a lot of years left in me,” Hook said. “We’re gonna work hard, and I know the players — for the little time we’ve been together have work extremely hard. We seem to have a promising season ahead of us.”