Unable to play or travel with the team last year after transferring from Mississippi State, Rodney Hood felt like he was imprisoned.

Now he’s free, preparing to play his first real game in more than a year and a half.

But on the court, he doesn’t celebrate like someone who just got out from behind bars, albeit figuratively. On a team with animated players who bump shoulders, pump fists and thump chests, Hood carries himself with a silent swagger that stands out more than any of his teammates’ emphatic gestures.

“That’s his demeanor, his swagger on the court,” junior Quinn Cook said. “He’ll let us do the talking for him. I call him the silent assassin because he doesn’t do any talking.”

As an on-the-court assassin, Hood has many methods of execution. At 6-foot-8, he has the body of a forward. He can play with his back to the basket, and he’s just as big as the team’s two starting post players, Amile Jefferson and Jabari Parker.

With the ball in his hands, though, he’s a lengthy wing player. In his freshman year at Mississippi State, he averaged 1.5 threes per game. On the perimeter, his athletic frame inevitably presents mismatches with opposing guards.

Now he just has to live up to his silent assassin’ billing.

“I love that name. Hopefully I can be that every time out,” Hood said.

Don’t mistake Hood’s quiet charisma with a lack of leadership. Freshman Semi Ojeleye said Hood leads by example, “staying late, being there early, hitting big-time shots.”

Those are the reasons why he’s one of the team’s captains, despite being with the team for only one season—a season in which he wasn’t allowed to play.

At first glance, Hood’s captaincy stands out next to his co-captains: Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston, both seniors. But unlike last season, when seniors Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee led the team in scoring, this year’s most veteran players won’t do that. Hood may ultimately prove to be the team’s go-to scoring option and the only captain to play more than 30 minutes per game, giving the team consistent on-the-court leadership.

Part of being a captain means being more vocal, and as Cook noted, “Coach tries to get him out of his comfort zone, talking more.”

Thornton said Hood was quiet last year but is now “far past that.”

And when the team needed somebody to speak, trailing by four points to Division II Drury at halftime of their last exhibition game, he spoke. Naturally, the hushed Hood wouldn’t say exactly what he said to his teammates.

“I’m not a hollering type guy, but I always say what needs to be said. At halftime, I said what needed to be said,” Hood said. “I can’t repeat it.”

It would be too much to attribute Duke’s eventual 16-point victory to whatever was said at halftime. It wouldn’t be too much to credit Hood with leading the Blue Devils in their comeback, scoring a game-high 21 points, dishing four assists and playing with an intensity that’s expected in March, not exhibition season.

The important takeaway: Rodney leads, and his teammates follow.

“He doesn’t have too much to say, but when he does talk it’s important, and he gets his message across,” Thornton said.

His message against Drury was that the team was playing with a lack of energy, something that needed to change in the second half.

Hood isn’t always so stern, though. When he’s not in game mode, he’s not quite the ‘silent assassin.’

“Off the court he’s not cool,” said Cook, who along with Marshall Plumlee lives with Hood. “He talks too much.”

A smiling Hood said Plumlee and Cook are good roommates, except when Marshall stays up playing video games all night.

The topic Hood can’t stop yammering about in their apartment: Monta Ellis, the Dallas Mavericks guard who averaged 19.2 points per game last season for the Milwaukee Bucks. Hood, a Meridian, Miss. native, said he began loving the game because of Ellis, who hails from Jackson, Miss.

“Monta is my boy. I try to let it be known,” Hood said.