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.”

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.