DURHAM, N.C. — Duke wants Rodney Hood to do just about everything.
He can play point guard. And shooting guard. And both of the forward positions.
The Mississippi State transfer’s versatility might make him the most indispensable player on a Blue Devils team that enters the season with serious national championship aspirations.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hood said he sees himself as a shooting guard on offense and a small forward on defense.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said “versatility will be the key phrase” for this Duke team.
He says the 6-foot-8 Hood proved his value to the Blue Devils while sitting out last season as a transfer. He defended guards Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon during practice and Krzyzewski says Hood “helped those two guys have better years.”
Now, after a long year away from competition, the redshirt sophomore is eager to get into games again.
He had a scare last week when an injury to his right Achilles tendon prematurely ended his tryout for the U.S. World University Games team. But it isn’t expected to be an issue once preseason practice gets underway, with his father Ricky saying that “if he does what he’s supposed to do, he should be fine the first part of August.”
Hood said one of his offseason priorities has been becoming stronger and more aggressive.
“That’s been the knock on me ever since I was in high school, being aggressive,” Hood said. “And now Coach demands that of me and everyone around me, because they know I can play.”
Hood figures to have plenty of talented players around him, with a highly touted freshman class led by Jabari Parker, Semi Ojeleye and Matt Jones plus key returnees Sulaimon and point guard Quinn Cook.
“There’s a lot of attention around Jabari Parker. Wait ‘til you see Rodney Hood,” North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried said. “He’s that good.”
The Blue Devils figure to be the preseason favorite in the new-look Atlantic Coast Conference and enter the year as a top contender to reach their 12th Final Four under Krzyzewski. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of situation Hood sought when he opted to leave Mississippi State after one season.
Leaving Starkville certainly wasn’t easy.
Hood grew up in Meridian, Miss., about 100 miles south of the Mississippi State campus. Both of his parents played for the Bulldogs in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. And then-coach Rick Stansbury had recruited him since he was an eighth-grader.
“I went there and everything started off great,” he said. “I was the hometown kid. Everybody knew me.”
He averaged 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in 2011-12 while helping the Bulldogs make a midseason climb to No. 15 in the Top 25. But things fell apart down the stretch — they lost seven of their last nine, then lost their coach when Stansbury retired that March.
When Mississippi State replaced him with an unfamiliar coach — former Clemson assistant Rick Ray — Hood decided to leave.
“What we did as parents, we wanted to make sure that he understood the impact of transferring,” said Ricky Hood, who transferred from Mississippi State to Murray State some three decades earlier before beginning his 8-year overseas playing career. “I knew what it was like, and I wanted to make sure he understood.”
Rodney said he was contacted by coaches from schools in the Big Ten, Big East and ACC. Kentucky was interested, but Mississippi State blocked him from going to another SEC school, he said.
“Coaches that didn’t talk to me even in high school, which was great — it means I did a little something at State, which was good,” Hood said.
He chose Duke because he said Krzyzewski was a straight shooter. He embraced the idea of playing for a basketball school, after spending virtually his entire life in the footprint of the football-first SEC.
And it didn’t hurt that, as a kid, he was a Duke fan — rooting hard for the Blue Devils in 2001 as they won their third national title behind Jason Williams, Shane Battier and Mike Dunleavy. Now he becomes the fourth transfer to play for Krzyzewski at Duke.
“It was sort of a natural fit,” Ricky Hood said.
The cross-country move forced the soft-spoken Hood out of his Mississippi comfort zone, made him become more extroverted and “changed my way of thinking.
“I’m a quiet guy. I learned how to (meet people) because I had to. I had to force myself to do that — I was hanging around my teammates a lot but I forced myself to get to know people around Durham,” he said. “It’s been great so far, getting to know people, people getting to know me. I’m a new face around here. It’s just a great place to be — especially for a basketball player.”