Like it does in most years, Duke has a bevy of talent for the 2012-13 campaign, but arguably the best player on its roster will never set foot on the hardwood this season.
Forced to sit out for a year due to NCAA transfer rules, Rodney Hood, a transfer from Mississippi State, will get his chance to shine for the Blue Devils next year. In the interim, he’ll spend this season practicing against quality competition in Rasheed Sulaimon and Alex Murphy as he adjusts to Duke life and readies for the 2013-14 campaign.
“They are both talented players,” Hood said. “Rasheed is a great driver. And Murph, no offense, but I’ve never had to guard a white boy that has been that athletic.”
Starting for Mississippi State as a freshman last season, Hood lived up to his billing as a consensus top-30 recruit in the class of 2011. The Meridian, Miss. native garnered All-SEC Freshman Team honors after averaging 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Those numbers are even more impressive when considering that stopping Hood was usually opposing SEC defenses’ top priority each night.
“He is a terrific player,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He is a 6-foot-8 guard. We’d love to have him this year.”
After the conclusion of the Bulldogs’ 2011-12 season, Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury announced his retirement. Stansbury was the point man in recruiting Hood and convinced the swingman to stay home and play for the Bulldogs instead of Georgetown, Florida State, Alabama and Louisville, among others.
“When [Stansbury] left, other guys that I came into the program with left,” Hood said. “I was starting from scratch, so I wanted to go elsewhere to compete for a national championship.”
In light of Michael Gbinije’s transfer to Syracuse last spring, Duke was left with a shortage of athletic and versatile wing players, so Krzyzewski quickly jumped at the opportunity to bring an impact slasher to Durham. The Blue Devil coaching staff aggressively immersed itself in the race to land Hood. And on July 1, Krzyzewski finally won the services of the lanky left-hander by beating out Florida State, Memphis and Ohio State in one of the most heated transfer-recruitment battles in recent years.
“I picked Mississippi State because it was close to home,” Hood said. “I wanted my family to see me play, and it was a comfortable decision. Things didn’t work out there, so I picked Duke because I wanted do the opposite—I wanted to get out of my comfort zone this time and be pushed by the best coaches in the country.”
For the first time in his life, Hood moved out of his home state, joining a perennial powerhouse in college basketball. In July, Hood enrolled in summer school and began working out with the team. The transition was a bit difficult at first.
“It was tough at first during the summer,” Hood said. “But I needed to grow up anyway and get away.”
Now, however, the soft-spoken southpaw seems to be much more comfortable.
“He was a little quiet at first,” said Murphy, a redshirt freshman who plays against Hood everyday in practice. “But I think he has really come around now. He’s part of the family now.”
The change of scenery is not the only adjustment. The vastly different mentality and intensity of the Blue Devil program is another factor he has been forced to adapt to.
“It’s a championship-level culture [at Duke],” Hood said. “I have never been on this type of level. Last year we were good, but we weren’t expected to win. Everything is intense.”
Hood has the talent to play at a championship level, with a skill set can be summed up best in one word—smooth. He rarely appears to be out of control, and often makes the game look easy both inside and outside. He combines excellent length with springy leaping ability, allowing him to finish in the paint and be a quality defender. Deft midrange and 3-point shooting abilities make him difficult to guard on the perimeter too.
Hood needs all these attributes to keep up at the more rigorous Duke practices. Playing against Murphy and Sulaimon in practice has raised the level of Hood’s game.
Likewise, the rest of the team has benefited from going against Hood each day in practice.
“Rodney is a tremendous talent,” Sulaimon said. “I’ve learned a lot and I’m going to get better going against him every day in practice. He’s a great scorer and tremendous defender, and Duke fans should be very excited about him.”
Squaring off against Hood every day in practice may be more difficult than many of the matchups Duke players will see when facing actual opponents.
“He challenges me, and I challenge him,” Murphy said. “It’s a lot of fun. The best thing about playing against Rodney everyday is I think he is as good of a player as there is in the country.”
Projected by some scouting services to be a first-round NBA draft pick in 2014, Hood will use this redshirt season to get stronger, become a more vocal leader and hone his craft to prepare for his opportunity to help Duke win a national championship in 2013-14.
“[Sitting out] is going to be frustrating because I’m a competitor,” Hood said. “But I have to just prepare for when my time comes.”