In many ways, the games and personalities of Julius Hodge and Rashad McCants are total opposites, but both share a talent for drawing the media's glow.
McCants is a Carolina boy from the mountainside town of Asheville, Hodge is a big-city baller from the heart of Harlem. McCants is a poet, Hodge is a performer. McCants is a long-range bomber, Hodge is a driving slasher. McCants is a gifted athlete, Hodge is a self-made talent. McCants, like pop singer Pink, is "Mizundastood;" Hodge, like rap artist Nas, is the "Street's Disciple." McCants is born to be hated, McCants is dying to be loved.
While McCants may be tagged with a certain kind of duplicitous reputation, the only thing contradictory about him this year is the contrast of his performance to last season. Gone are the bouts of pouting and the curious rants to the media - McCants is playing with a team-first purpose and thriving.
But last year's propensity for poor word selection still haunts him. Who can forget McCants' comparison of playing at UNC to being in prison?
Likewise, Hodge's knack for delivering the clever soundbyte has continued to entertain us. Who didn't laugh at Hodge's response, "I would hate to see what their shower scene looks like." Perhaps the answer to that would be UNC fans, which only makes it better.
Hodge may have been having fun, but he likely wasn't being too lighthearted last year in Raleigh when he exchanged words with McCants at the scorer's table. According to Sports Illustrated, the vaguely feline vulgarity Hodge uttered was responsible for sparking McCants' firestorm of threes that buried the Wolfpack for its second loss to the Heels.
Despite getting swept by the Heels, Hodge's Wolfpack had the better season, finishing second to Wake Forest in the league. Hodge also outpaced McCants for the 2004 ACC Player of the Year award, and seemed poised for a jump to the NBA. However, he returned for his senior year and another chance at glory. Not to mention to finish his degree, which he was only 12 credits away from completing.
McCants, who by all accounts seemed itching to escape UNC after his sophomore season, also surprisingly stuck around, along with future first-round teammates Sean May and Raymond Felton.
Same choices, same decisions, but much different results. Sitting at 6-1 in the league and ranked #2 in the nation, McCants seems to have made an uncharacteristically wise decision.
Hodge, on the other hand, finds his Wolfpack toiling through what has become a Wolfpack tradition of injuries and inconsistency. The 3-4 Pack will most definitely finish behind the Heels in the standings this year. So, with this reversal of fortune, perhaps that means this season NC State will be the one to sweep the series?
However things play out on the court, expect viscious competition between two notorious and talented swingmen. Surely last year's heated showdowns will be foremost on the mind of both players. To make things even more fun, Hodge will likely be matched up on McCants in Sendek's man-to-man package, giving him every opportunity to repay McCants for last year.
Unfortunately, circumstances this year are a little different. With the Wolfpack fighting for its NCAA tournament life, if there was ever a time for Hodge to turn 2005 into a season worth returning for, tonight's that night.