By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Rick Stansbury has heaped the praise upon freshman Rodney Hood, which one might think would put a weight on the Mississippi State freshman guard.
Not so. In fact, Hood thinks the pressure is on everybody else.
The 6-foot-8, 204-pound Hood put together a stellar prep career at Meridian High School, earning accolades left and right while leading the Wildcats to the Class 6A state title as a senior. His game appears ready-made for the SEC, and he will likely start for MSU.
“When it comes to basketball, I really don’t get nervous. I love the game,” Hood said. “I’ve got veterans, the pressure’s on them. I’ve just got to play my role to the best of my ability. I’m ready for the competition. This is what I’ve dreamed about. I’m just ready for the season to get started.”
Hood will have to wait until next Monday, when the Bulldogs host Eastern Kentucky to open the 2011-12 season, one full of anticipation. Hood – along with fellow rookie DeVille Smith – is one of many reasons for optimism.
Last season at Meridian, Hood averaged 24 points and 8 rebounds and was considered one of the top 20 prospects in the country. He accompanied the Bulldogs on their five-game European exhibition tour and played well, averaging 11.8 points per game.
With those veterans he spoke of surrounding him – guys like Dee Bost, Brian Bryant and Jalen Steele – Hood won’t have a big burden to carry. On the other hand, with all he can do, Hood could end up being a big factor.
Asked what Hood can do most freshmen can’t, Bost said, “Score. His IQ is high for a freshman.”
Plus, Hood can handle the ball, shoot it, get after rebounds, and play a little defense. There will be plenty for him to learn, and even Stansbury admits that amid all the praise.
“His biggest adjustment will just be the strength level, understanding how you’ve got to defend as a freshman, the toughness you’ve got to defend with,” the 14th-year coach said. “That’s his adjustment. But only time’s going to take care of that.”
Hood is understanding that more and more as preseason practices drag on.
“It’s been the physical part, the speed of the game. It goes a lot faster,” he said. “And just staying focused every single play. In high school you can take plays off, but now it’s more in detail, so you’ve got to pay attention all the time.”
Even as a freshman, Hood is an upgrade over the departed Ravern Johnson at the 3 spot. Johnson could shoot, but didn’t do much else well. Bost said Hood is “real ready” to step in and play.
Stansbury sure feels that way.
“He’s a different kind of freshman. I have probably more expectations from him than I have a lot of him, because his adjustment is minimized in so many areas, because of his background. Great family, understands hard work, understands accountability, been taught values of being a good teammate.
“Then you put all of that with having great ability.”