Destinee Hooker (19) and Foluke Akinradewo celebrate after winning a point… (Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP…)
LONDON — Someone cut Destinee Hooker from a volleyball team once.
She was 13 years old. Now Hooker is 24 and the brightest new star on the U.S. women's Olympic volleyball team that has advanced to the gold-medal match.
Yet Hooker still cried Thursday when she remembered the moment when someone told her she wasn't good enough to play.
"I told my dad I quit that day," Hooker said. "I told him, 'I don't want to do this anymore.' But I remember I got embraced, I got a big hug from my dad. He said that if we had another tryout the next day, I should just give it my all."
PHOTOS: 2012 London Olympics | Day 13
The U.S. beat South Korea, 25-20, 25-22, 25-22, on Thursday at Earls Court in the semifinals and will play defending Olympic gold medalist Brazil on Saturday for the championship in a rematch of the 2008 Beijing final. Brazil beat Japan, 25-18, 25-15, 25-18, in Thursday's second semifinal.
This is the 13th Olympics that has included women's volleyball, but the U.S. has never done better than second place (twice, in 2008 and 1984).
Hooker's father is Ricky Hooker, who was once a sixth-round draft pick of the San Antonio Spurs. He said he understood his daughter's feelings on that tearful day years ago. And he appreciated the emotions behind those tears. His daughter was daring to have oversized hope.
"When I was younger and was drafted to the pros," Ricky Hooker said, "I didn't make it and I think partly it was because my dream wasn't big enough. My dream was to be drafted, that's it. If you dream big, that can push you further."
Hooker wasn't the only star for the No. 1-ranked U.S. on Thursday. Captain Lindsey Berg, who sat out the U.S.' quarterfinal match because of a strained left Achilles' tendon, was in the middle of much of the action against the Koreans. She scampered everywhere and was often the one setting the stage for Hooker.
"It's game time and I feel great," Berg said. "And I won't care how I feel after Saturday."
Hugh McCutcheon, who coached the U.S. men to a gold medal in Beijing and is now the women's coach, gave Berg a hug after the match. It was as if McCutcheon understood the pain the 32-year-old was enduring.
And it was Logan Tom, another 32-year-old and former Stanford star who is playing in her fourth Olympics, who put the final point away for the U.S., with an emphatic spike.
Hooker said it was Tom who had been her volleyball role model. "I learned from her shot selection and how she bonds so well with her teammates," Hooker said.
She learned her competitive ability, though, from her family.
Her older sister, Marshevet Hooker, finished fifth at the Beijing Olympics in the 200-meter race and was part of the U.S. world-champion 400-meter relay team in 2011. But Marshevet is pregnant and isn't competing at these Olympics. The sisters are communicating every day, though, via Skype.
And as for that coach who once cut Hooker from a youth team?
McCutcheon had a comparison. "Sounds like when Michael Jordan was getting cut as a sophomore," he said.
Jordan recovered from his snubbing pretty well. Hooker has a good example to follow.