"So it's going to be a lot of people at the game, and I'm excited to play."
But maybe not as excited as Mississippi State fans, related or otherwise, are about watching this freshman forward play in a Bulldog uniform. OK, let's use the phrase: this fabulous freshman. Because it has been a long, long time since a pup has made the sort of impression on Bulldog basketball Hood has. Just a dozen games—all starts, too—into his college career and this second-generation Dog is making his own name for himself.
"Though the first part of the season I was trying to find my way," said Hood. "But now I'm coming into my own."
That could be as frightening a phrase as upcoming Mississippi State opponents would hear. Because it implies Hood is about to truly take off as a Bulldog ballplayer, beyond his impressive performance through the first twelve games. Hood goes to Jackson with a 12.5 point scoring average, getting 5.2 rebounds, and twice as many assists as turnovers.
Did we say ‘fabulous'?
"He does a little bit of everything," said Coach Rick Stansbury, who met young Hood when the kid was barely into junior high. And then within another year or two was recruiting him with most of the high school career still in store. Safe to say Hood has proved more than worth the time and effort invested.
"One of the biggest things I've been impressed with for a young guy, the game has not sped up for him at all. And that's a great ability there."
Or one of Hood's great abilities, to be accurate. He has so many others, such as moves that would be called explosive except they seem so effortless. An elevated jumpshot that might be unblockable and hits home at well-better than 50% efficiency. Rebounding prowess far exceeding the still-skinny physique. Court awareness, needless to note. And not least, a simple respect for getting all the basics down and done.
Take Hood's evaluation of how his post-semester days on campus are spent. "The best thing is coming in any time of the day and being able to work on shots." But not the shots your typical ballers play around with during off-days.
"He has something a lot of guys don't have these days, he has a mid-range game," said Stansbury. "Guys go to the gym and work on three-pointers and dunks, it's obvious he's worked on the mid-range game."
Rare indeed. Funny thing, Hood doesn't see it as unusual at all. Father and former Bulldog forward Rickey Hood had a big hand in setting Rodney straight on such things at a very early age. "Me and my Dad, that's all we worked on. I take pride in that," Rodney said.
"I wasn't a kid working three-pointers or half-court shots or that. I was working on free throws or mid-range shots like that." Further reinforcement came from older brother Rickey Jr., a college ballplayer as well, who also thrived on scoring from six-to-15 feet or so. Rodney might have gone against the popular grain, but not against his family tradition of how best to score baskets.
Besides…it makes him stand out that much more in today's game. "I think it's a lost art," Rodney agreed. But don't worry, he can rise up and slam it down with fluid ease. And he has hit 18 three-pointers, on 43% accuracy, so far, too. Best way to put it: don't leave Hood open anywhere, any time.
Or, any situation. Take last Saturday at Detroit, as the Bulldogs were trying to hold off a home-Titan team that had rallied for a tie score in the final minute. To be honest Hood was not having his best game on the road, with teammates Arnett Moultrie and Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney setting the pace. Foul troubles would limit him to just 17 minutes.
But as the game clock wound inside 20 seconds Hood got free on the baseline with an open look. "I just took it on myself to make something happen," he said. "They were trying to double-team off the ball screen, Arnett and them were covered and we needed another scoring threat. I felt good when I took the shot."
And better when he hit it at 17.7 seconds for a lead State didn't lose. "He made a big, mid-range shot, a 15-footer off the bounce," said Stansbury. "He jumps up and shoots it with confidence."
Confidence that some observers might call arrogance, given how expressionless this kid does, well, everything. Too cool for school? Oh no, not at all. Hood has a healthy sense of confidence to be sure, but there is nothing cocky about his court-style. For that matter, this is a first-year collegian with all his priorities in order. Sorta like his shot selection, he believes in mastering the basics.
Such as academics. Guess who made the Dean's List in his first semester, and in kinesiology at that? And, who told skeptical media he was more excited to make that honor roll than to hit a game-winning shot? Right. Rodney.
"Because I was kind of worried my first time taking exams, in high school you can be exempt but not here, I was worried my grades would fall a bit." Actually they might have as he had only—only—three As for fall with a couple of Bs. The parents will surely have something to say over Christmas dinner about THAT. Not that anyone need fear Hood losing focus here, either. In fact… "I'm thinking about changing to something more challenging," he said.
Stansbury said Hood's quality ‘gene pool' shows in how Rodney handles on- and off-court matters. Which is why the sky is the proverbial limit here.
"And he's nowhere near what he can become. Strength level and physicality of the game is part of it, but as that gets better his game will take another step. It will help him in defending, it will help him driving the ball when people bump him. He's pretty good about getting in there and jumping up and shooting it."
Hood also has been pretty good in Mississippi Coliseum. He led Meridian to the state championship last year, after all, going off for --- points in the title game and sealing Mr. Basketball in Mississippi status. Though, "I have mixed feelings about it," he said of returning to the scene. "One time I lost here, and one time I won." Oh, and where was his best scoring spot on this court?
Easy. "The free throw line. I went to the free throw line a lot." Which might be the one modest critique of Hood's season so far. He has only taken 15 free throws in a dozen games, and made just eight of them. Mark down something else he will work on himself, without any coach prompting required. The last thing Hood wants is to miss such a shot, and perhaps cost State a shot at something really special this season.
"This is the first time I've ever been on a team like this, with so much talent," Hood said. "And it's actually better for me. I knew coming in, especially when I heard Dee and Renardo were coming back, I would have to take a lesser role. But I'm fine with that role right now. Just come in and play hard, be an extra playmaker or knock down shots when people started doubling Dee and Arnett."
Hey, it certainly worked out well at Detroit. Not that Hood seeks such settings, of course, with the ball on and the game in his own freshman hands. It was fun, but "I hope I don't have to take no more!"
Don't worry. He will. And odds are Hood will again deliver for the Dogs. For the home folk too.
#18-ranked Mississippi State (11-1) and Northwestern State (7-5) tip off tonight at 7:00. There is no telecast of the game, with the broadcast carried by the Mississippi State network.