Mount Vernon teen sinks half-court basket, wins $20,000

By Donna Lampkin Stephens

Basketball has been a part of Cody Hoover’s life for years, and now it will help pay for his college education. Just not in the way one might expect.

Photo by Mike Kemp

Hoover, 18, a 5-foot-10 shooting guard who graduated from Mount Vernon-Enola (MVE) in May, won $20,000 after making a shot from half-court at halftime of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s NBA game against the Utah Jazz in March.

“I banked it in,” Hoover recalled recently. “I threw my arms up and was completely speechless. The (Thunder) dance crew and mascot all ran up and were jumping up with me, getting hyped.” The celebration continued during photos with the oversized check made out to him. “We were all still freaking out,” he said.

Obviously, it was a magical night.

His parents, Tammy and Joe Hoover, surprised him on MVE’s Senior Night with tickets to the game. “Every spring break, me and my dad would always go on a little trip, but when COVID-19 hit, we stopped because we couldn’t go anywhere, and we just started back up this year,” Hoover said. “We went to a Thunder game in 2018, and another time we went to a (University of) Kentucky game.”

Photo provided courtesy of OKC Thunder

On March 20, as he and his father walked through the lobby of the Paycom Center to get to their seats, a woman from the Thunder organization walked up to them with a clipboard and pen. She asked Hoover, clad in a team jersey, if he wanted to shoot free throws during a timeout for a chance at the MidFirst Bank half-court shot contest at halftime.

His opponent was a man in his 40s, Hoover said. During the timeout, they went to opposite baskets and had 30 seconds to make as many free throws as they could. Hoover made five; his opponent made one. He said he had no idea where he stood during those 30 seconds. “I was completely focused on grabbing the ball and shooting, grabbing the ball and shooting,” he remembered.

With that win, he had one shot from half-court for the $20,000.

“They gave me a ball, and the mascot gave me a little nod on the head, and I put it up, banked it in and started freaking out.” The shot arced straight and kissed off the backboard through the net. 

According to, the probability of making a half-court shot is approximately 20 percent. Hoover’s was the first winning shot at the arena all season, according to, and he became the 20th person to make the shot since 2008.

“You have to be confident for a shot like that,” said Hoover, who averaged 11.1 points per game during his senior season with the Warhawks. He said he and his teammates often threw up such shots after practice.

Photo provided courtesy of OKC Thunder

The day’s only disappointment, he said, was not getting to interact with Thunder players after the winning shot. “I saw clips, though, and you could see them in the background cheering and waving towels,” he said. “They saw me make it.”

His mother was watching from home. “My dad sent her a text and she put something on Facebook, so everybody in town and all of my mom’s Facebook friends got to watch,” he said. Tammy Hoover called it “a once-in-a-lifetime moment.”  “We’re beyond blessed for Cody,” she said. “He’s a great kid, and his dad and I were extremely lucky that God chose us to be his parents.”

When the Hoovers returned to Mount Vernon the following day, a cheering section at the Greenbrier Taco Bell awaited. “My mom and some other family and my girlfriend and other friends had signs congratulating me,” he remembered. “They were celebrating with me.” Teammates and other friends also joined in the fun. “Everybody’s saying, ‘Remember, you owe me something for something,’” he said, laughing. “Everybody was so proud. That felt pretty good.”

While most of the money will be saved for his college education as he heads to the University of Central Arkansas to study communication sciences and disorders, he said he planned to also do something for his parents. A couple of vacations are also on tap before UCA. “It’s definitely something I’ll never forget,” he said of the shot. “I don’t think it’s really changed me. I’m still pretty humble about it.”

Would he have a summer job now had he not hit the shot? “Maybe,” he said. “Probably. More than likely.” 

Donna Stephens