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Rodney Hood’s development as a redshirt spurred by every other team’s best player?

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Rodney Hood did not want to sit out last season.

No athlete ever wants to put their playing career on hold, but the frustration was two-fold for Hood. The former five-star recruit left Mississippi State after one forgettable season playing for Rick Stansbury, alongside the likes of Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost.

Hood was good-but-not-great in his one year in Starkville, but the Bulldogs were a train-wreck. They missed the NCAA tournament for the second straight season while their issues off the court were more troublesome than the problems they had on it. Stansbury “retired” after the season, so Hood left.

He picked Duke over Ohio State, among others, but since transferring after the coach that recruited parts way with the program doesn’t qualify a player for a hardship waiver, Hood was forced to redshirt last season. He could practice with the team, but he wasn’t allowed to play. He wasn’t even allowed to travel, a fact that was made problematic by the lack of cable in the Duke dorm rooms. Hood was forced to watch road games in the locker room or at a Buffalo Wild Wings.

It’s not an easy process, particularly when it seems like every single relevant transfer is able to find a way to get a waiver to play immediately.

The irony, however, is that spending a year away from the game may have been the best thing that could have happened to Hood. Since he wasn’t able to play, Hood threw himself into workouts, living in the gym.

“I’d go to practice, participated, went hard, tried to help the team out as much as I can,” Hood told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. “Then later on that night I would come back and shoot that night. Then when the team went on the road, I would get in the gym and work out, go watch the game, and then go work out more.”

“I would lift on gamedays, just stay in the weight room every time the team was away or before a game, I had to get stronger.”

And he did.

Hood said he’s up to 212 pounds from 195 when he first got to Durham. “All good weight,” he says, the kind that hasn’t cut into his athleticism.

But the weight was only the half of it. Hood spent quite a bit of time doing skill work as well. He’s a more consistent shooter, he developed his handle, he’s gotten better at getting all the way to the rim, he better understands Duke’s defensive principles. The biggest difference in Hood’s game, however, may end up being his aggressiveness.

The only way to improve a skill is through repetition, and the ability to be aggressive and assertive on a basketball court is a skill. You can learn it. You can develop it. And that’s exactly what Hood was forced to do last season. Every single day in practice, the Duke coaching staff used Hood as an opponent’s best player, whether it be a point guard, like Virginia Tech’s Erick Green or Shane Larkin, or a big man, like Creighton’s Doug McDermott.

“I think at times he was reserved in his freshman year at Mississippi State, so when you’re put into the character of another team’s best player, you have to get into a new mindset, one that’s very aggressive and assertive,” associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “That’s what we need him to be this year for our team. Getting out of the old habits, or getting into a new character, I think can be very beneficial for a player. That’s why I think that, a lot of times, a redshirt year for a college kid is very good. I certainly feel like it was very productive for Rodney.”

Hood loved his role in practice. He embraced it. He was the focal point offensively every time he stepped on that practice. Nothing he did could ever be considered a bad shot. That’s a great way to develop confidence in a player, for him to learn how to do different things on a basketball court. You have a lot more freedom to make a move you’ve been working on individually when you’re not worried about one mistake getting you yanked off the court.

“It’s like playing with free money,” he said.

It also allowed Hood to work on his all-around game. He was forced to learn how to handle the ball against pressure. He had to figure out how to drive and score when help defense was always one dribble away. He had to practice being aggressive even when a defense was built around stopping him. “It’s hard to score when everybody is focused on you,” Hood said.

As a result, Hood not only developed as a player, he developed a confidence in his ability, a belief in himself that he’s capable of doing all of these different things on a basketball court. The coaching staff can put him in different positions on the floor and be confident that he’ll be able to be effective.

And when you consider that Hood will be the second-most versatile player on the Duke roster to freshman Jabari Parker, it creates a situation where the Blue Devils will be able to put lineups on the floor that are very difficult to matchup with.

Hood’s just happy that those matchups will come outside of practice this season.

“I’m looking forward to everything,” he said. “The rivalries, playing against other great players and the best teams in the nation. The ACC is going to be great this year, and I’m looking forward to that challenge.”

Villanova’s Jenkins to return for senior season

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to play against North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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After briefly taking part in the NBA Draft evaluation process, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins announced Monday night that he’s decided to withdraw and return to school for his senior year. Jenkins, whose three-pointer as time expired gave the Wildcats the win over North Carolina in the national title game, announced the news via Twitter.

2015-16 was a breakout season for Jenkins, who moved into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 45.9 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, and with starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduating he’ll have even more opportunities to produce next season.

Jenkins’ decision to return leaves wing Josh Hart as the lone Wildcats going through the early entry process at this time. Hart was a first team All-Big East selection as a junior, and his return would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team that many expect to be a national title contender in 2016-17.

Jenkins and Hart wouldn’t be the only returnees who had a part in the national title run, with guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, wing Mikal Bridges and forward Darryl Reynolds back as well. To that group Villanova adds Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and a recruiting class anchored by Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney available after being hampered by injuries last season.

Delaney missed all of last year after undergoing surgical procedures on his hips, and DiVincenzo played a total of 74 minutes over the first nine games before having to sit due to a broken foot.

Florida State guard Rathan-Mayes to return for junior season

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
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With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.

Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.

Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.

The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP
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With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.

 

Boise State assistant named head coach at Northern Colorado

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Courtesy UNCBears.com
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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.