Hood still carries lessons from Duke, Coach K in NBA career

Utah guard Rodney Hood (right) defends fellow former Duke player Justise Winslow, left, of the Miami Heat during an NBA game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami last Nov. 12, 2016.
Utah guard Rodney Hood (right) defends fellow former Duke player Justise Winslow, left, of the Miami Heat during an NBA game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami last Nov. 12, 2016. pportal@elnuevoherald.com

. Every single day, try to be the best version of yourself.

That was one of the messages Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski delivered to Rodney Hood that still makes an impact on the Utah Jazz small forward.

“That’s something that Coach K taught me that I can take with me through fatherhood, being a man, basketball, whatever it is,” Hood said before a recent playoff game. “It’s something that I think about every single day. I draw back on it all the time, lessons that Coach K taught me.”

The Jazz have improved their win total in each of the past three seasons, culminating in a berth in the Western Conference semifinals (the Jazz trail the Golden State Warriors 3-0 entering Monday). The team’s upward trajectory coincided with the arrival of Hood and head coach Quin Snyder, another Duke product.

Hood transferred to Duke after his freshman year at Mississippi State. After a redshirt year, he played one season with the Blue Devils and then was selected 23rd overall by Utah in the 2014 NBA Draft.

“I’ve known Rodney a long time – Mississippi State, Duke, Utah,” Snyder said. “There’s been a steady climb and a consistent climb; he’s one of those guys you feel lucky to coach. Every part of the game matters to him. You challenge him and he always responds. It shows the character that he’s got, and the ability is self-evident.”

Named a captain at Duke despite being a redshirt sophomore, Hood is now one of two Duke products still getting consistent minutes in the NBA playoffs, along with Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving.

As expected from a player getting his first playoff experience, Hood has had inconsistent results. He had 12 points on 6 of 12 shooting and five rebounds in Game 1 against the Warriors, but shot just 5 of 21 over the next two games, though he did make a corner 3 late in the first half of Game 3 that put the Jazz ahead for the first time in the entire series.

“Just natural progression,” Hood said. “Going through something like this is only going to make you better. Not many young guys in the league are getting to play valuable minutes for a really good team, so I’m trying to take advantage of it as much as I can.”

The Mississippi native has averaged 12.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists in his NBA career.

Hood said he wanted to come back to Duke after his sophomore year, especially after the Blue Devils lost to Mercer at Raleigh’s PNC Arena in his only NCAA Tournament game, but conversations with Krzyzewski and his family convinced him to leave.

Duke has always been like family to Hood, who met his wife there – former Duke women’s basketball player Richa Jackson – along with his two best friends, former teammates Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones.

Still, even his time at Duke and all the lessons from Krzyzewski couldn’t fully prepare him for going up against the NBA’s best team in the playoffs. There are some things that you need to experience for yourself.

“The intensity is different, there are a lot better players, we’re on a much bigger stage,” Hood said. “It helps a little bit because Duke was always in the spotlight, but it’s just different.”