One on one with Rodney Hood

Perhaps the most anticipated debut of the 2013-2014 season will be that of newly eligible small forward, Rodney Hood. The 6-foot-8 wing is currently at the USA Basketball Training Camp, but had a chance to sit down with TDD to discuss the opportunities ahead, the decision to come to Durham, and the challenges therein. Hood also touches on what Blue Devil fans can expect from him on the court.

How has the Team USA camp been?

Rodney Hood: It's been going really well, and there's been a lot of competition. It's been a lot of fun with so many guys here competing. I'm doing pretty good; I've been doing the little things and shooting the ball well.

What would it mean to you if you made the team?

It would mean a lot to me, just to be able to wear that USA across my chest, to be able to represent my country, it's something I've never been able to do, and it's a great opportunity. It's also been great for me just to play real games, finally. With last year, and not being able to play in real games during the season, it's been good to play for real here, and get back in the swing of things before the college season starts up.

Did Coach K talk with you about being named to compete for a spot on this team after you were invited to the camp?

Yeah, he talked with me and told me to just come out here and be myself and not try to do too much, just be who I am and just compete.

What are you looking forward to off the court the most if you do make the team?

Just the experience of being with the top guys in the country, it's not something you get to see often, and it's going to be great.

Switching gears, what was it like for you once you made the decision to transfer and you were evaluating schools like Duke and Ohio State and others?

It was tough because it was the second go around for me, and I didn't want to make a wrong choice. I think on the first time, I made the right mistake, and it just didn't turn out the way I thought it would. That was really tough, and I basically was down to Duke and Ohio State. I loved both schools, and it was a tough decision, but I made the right decision to come to Duke.

What was it about Duke?

It was Coach K. I mean, he's the best coach in college basketball, and he knows how to coach both great players and the game. Coach is a great teacher and I knew I would learn a lot from him, both on and off the court. It got me out of my comfort zone, as well. I was used to being comfortable when I was down in Mississippi, and I really wanted and needed to get out of my comfort zone, that's why I chose Duke.

What was the experience like for you when you were calling Coach K to tell him that you wanted to come to Duke?

Yeah, I just called him up and I told him. Honestly, I think he was surprised, but it was fun to tell him I was coming. It took a long time because it was a dead period, so it was a weight off my chest when I could tell him and he re-assured me and told me it was going to be a great decision.

How were you feeling when you started thinking about that you were going to be not just a Duke basketball player, but a Duke student as well?

At first I didn't know what to think. All you hear about Duke is it is one of the best schools in the country, but I wanted to push myself off the court, and I knew it was a great opportunity to put myself in a position to have a stable life after basketball. It's challenging, but that's a good thing. Kenny King, the team academic advisor, helped me a lot, and I worked a lot with my tutors, and I stayed in communication with my teachers. It's about me, and I took my schoolwork seriously.

How do you think you handled the transfer year sitting out?

I think i handled it very well. I learned to stay in the moment, and I really helped my teammates out. I came to practice each and every day and worked hard, and it was really great learning experience. I really learned a lot from my teammates who taught me how to be a great teammate, and a great player. I wish i could have played, but it was still a great experience.

What do you think you learned the most about yourself, either about being a Duke player or as a person during this past year?

I learned that I could do more than was expected of me in the past. A lot of times I was playing the one or the two here because, on the Scout team, all we had were bigs it seemed like, so I had to handle the ball a lot. It was a lot of things I learned and hopefully it carries over to this season.

What are your thoughts on this season's playing style versus last year's given the makeup of the roster?

It's going to be exciting. The seniors we had last year were great, and they led our team, and they were great people. This year is going to be really different, because we'll have more younger guys, but we'll be more dynamic and talented I think, especially on the perimeter. This year we'll be more versatile both offensively and defensively, it's going to be fun to play this year with this style of play, we will play different and we'll see what happens.

We've spoken to several of your teammates over the year who have indicated that you've been a great player at Duke already, and they really expect big things from you this year. How do you react to those teammate expectations?

It's great that I have their respect, and I've just been trying to work hard and help them. While doing that I felt like I got better during the process. It was a great experience, and I learned a lot from them and they learned some from me, because I played a year of college basketball and then I sat out. That allowed me to help some of the younger freshmen, since I had that experience from the year before.

Rasheed talked about your leadership influence on this team, can you share what your approach is to leadership?

Leadership…Well, I'm not a real vocal guy, but I try to lead by example. Rasheed was my freshman to take care of, and he had an up and down year, so I always just tried to make sure he was confident in his game. I just tried to lead by example with him.

Can you shed some light on how you feel knowing you are going to be running the wing with Jabari Parker this year?

It's going to be great, and very exciting. With Jabari, obviously he's done a lot in high school and I know it's going to transfer over to the college game. We're going to create a lot of mismatches by the way we play together, and it's going to be really fun. I'm real excited for him to get on campus and then we can get started.

From a basketball player perspective, how do you think you two play together or off of each other?

The great thing about it is with both of us is we are both unselfish and we both love to win and compete. We're probably two of the better players on the team, so we are going to be expected to carry the load. We're both similar size and skill sets, but we can take a lot from each other's games and it's going to be great. It's going to be hard to guard both of us.

The Duke "brand" is something discussed a lot by the players that are a part of it. I'm curious, how do you represent that now that you've been a part of it for a year?

I just try to be myself, and I carry myself in a different way. This is the first time I've played with a little bit of pressure because at Duke, you are expected to win. I just gotta continue to be myself. I know I can't be Shane Battier or anybody else, I'm Rodney Hood, and I just gotta be myself and everything else will take care of itself.

What's your thoughts on being able to express yourself through the Duke Blue Planet site?

Oh man, it's great. Dave Bradley does a great job at putting it together. It was really great for me because not a lot of people were familiar with me since I didn't play last year. It was great, like a stepping stone for people to get to know me.

During Duke's End of Season Banquet i noticed you tweeted that during a night like that, you really understood what being a Duke player was all about, can you go a little bit into that?

Just being there and seeing the emotional investment from the seniors. Each senior had a video of all their four years at Duke, and seeing how they grew. Then, seeing Chris Collins with him leaving after having been a part of the Duke family for a number of years, it's really a family feel to it. You don't really get the full effect of that until you are really in it.

You touched on it earlier, but how has your relationship with Coach K evolved over the last year? What have you learned from him?

Coach K…he's a passionate guy, and he loves the game of basketball. He studies it and he's all about player development and winning. That's what i love about him, is just his passion for us and the game. Our relationship has grown so much…it's awesome and now that I've gotten acclimated, he's told me he wants me to be a leader on this team, which means I've got big shoes to fill.

The expectations are very high for you from the fans and in the media in terms of your expected impact on this Duke team, how do you react to that?

The main thing is I just have to be myself. I feel like I can play and we'll see where I can lead the team and be who I am. That's the biggest thing, to not go out to try and be anybody else. If i do that, the rest will take care of itself.

What do you think you bring to the Duke team on both ends of the court?

We're going to play up and down. I can guard multiple positions and I'm going to create havoc on the court offensively with offensive rebounding, shooting the 3, getting into the paint, and just playing off of my teammates.

You may have a decision to make after the season in terms of the NBA. Have you thought about that?

I really don't know, and it's something that's been thrown around already by people, but I'm going to go when I'm ready. I'm not in a hurry to get there.

Still, how do you react to that kind of speculation or expectation?

It's great. I mean, it's always been my dream to play in the NBA, but I'm just taking my time and getting better, and when the time comes, I'll make the decision when i know i'm ready. I'm definitely going to get help from Coach K, the coaching staff, my parents, and my family when i'm looking at that. Coach K and the staff expects me to come in and produce at a high level and be one of the best players in the country. If i do what i'm supposed to do, then we'll see what happens at the end of the season.

You seem really comfortable with a lot of expectations, where does that come from?

Really it's just preparing for it. I feel like I'll do well, and that's all you can do. Work as hard as you can, then you play as hard as you can, and listen to the coaches and let things fall where they may. I'm going to give my best effort because that's anybody can ask for. I'm not scared of the pressure because I know I can play.

Last question, what would your message be to Duke fans as the season approaches?

Yeah, I hope they are ready, that's all I can say.

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