By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State needs Rodney Hood the basketball player. But it might need Rodney Hood the person even more.
Fair or not, the MSU name is somewhat tarnished after a tumultuous 2010-11 season both on and off the court: A fight, Twitter mishaps, and a quick exit from the SEC Tournament to bring it all to an end.
The Bulldogs are itching to put that all behind them. So is Hood, the jewel of Rick Stansbury’s 2011 signing class.
Wearing a gray Mississippi State T-shirt prior to Friday’s Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game in Pelham, Ala., the 6-foot-8 Hood talked about a desire for this new infusion of blood, which includes fellow signees D.J. Gardner and Deville Smith, to bring “a new attitude” to Starkville next season.
“I know there was a lot of stuff going on off the court, but I understand that it happens everywhere,” Hood said. “I was kind of hurt by what they were saying about coach Stansbury. I know we’ve got good kids on the team, so it was kind of hurtful that the national people saw that of our school.
“At the same time, I think we’ve got some good people around the program.”
Hood is what you might call “good people,” according to his friends. The son of a high school principal (Vicky) and the director of the Meridian Boys & Girls Club (Ricky), Hood is described as a focused but light-hearted sort. Smith called him a “role model.”
Hood credits his parents and his high school coach, Randy Bolden, with steering him down the right path in life.
“My high school coach taught me a lot about life, wearing your pants on your waist, dressing how a man’s supposed to (dress), just teaching me how to be a young man,” Hood said. “ My dad, ever since I was a young boy, he always told me right from wrong, to shy away from the crowd and be like yourself. Don’t try to be like everybody else.”
Hood and the others are symbolic of a fresh start for MSU, a chance to wipe the slate clean.
Renardo Sidney, who was involved in the infamous Hawaii brawl, will apparently be back and appears to be properly focused now. Hood will be taking over the position vacated by Ravern Johnson, who after being suspended for his “inappropriate tweets” finished the season strong.
Smith, from Jackson Callaway, has been told he’ll take over point guard duties, allowing rising senior Dee Bost to return to his more natural shooting guard position. Gardner, a lanky sharpshooter from Okolona, should see plenty of action as well.
“They told us they want us now,” Smith said, “(that) we would’ve started this year.”
Hood led Meridian to the Class 6A state title this year, averaging 24.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game along the way. Rivals.com gives him a full five-star rating and ranks him the 21st-best senior prospect in the nation.
He’s a lot like Johnson, except he can handle the ball, often playing what’s called a point forward position for Meridian.
Smith (22.0 ppg, 4.0 assists per game) and Gardner (32.0 ppg) are highly rated as well. Gardner decided on MSU only after Hood did, and the latter is considered the leader of this group.
“We look at each other as brothers more than a package (deal),” Smith said.
Like Hood, Smith sees an opportunity to restore MSU’s name and get it back on a winning track. He played pick-up games with Sidney in late December when the big man was sent home from Hawaii, and he saw a player who knew what kind of mistake he had made.
“The bad activity they had, me and Rodney (are) just going to come and (change) that negative activity to a positive activity,” said Smith, “and just basically be a leader out there and change the whole thing around.”
It might be too much to ask for leadership out of the newcomers, but if anyone is qualified to be a leader, it’s Hood. Between his mother, who’s the principal at J.J. McClain High School, and his father, he’s learned how to deal with people his own age.
Hood knows where he stands, and how to stay true to that.
“I just learned a lot from them as far as they just believe in doing the right thing, no matter how much people like it or what other people’s views of it is, they believe in doing the right thing,” he said. “I take heed to that.”
There’s a fun side to Hood, too. As Smith put it, “He’s a comedian. … He’s quiet, because he’s laid back. Once you get around him, he’s a different man.
Daniel Grieves agrees. A senior at St. Stanislaus, he’s played AAU ball with Hood for years. Grieves considers him a good friend, and he knows exactly what MSU is getting in Hood.
“He’s a better person than he is a basketball player,” Grieves said, “and that speaks a lot.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.