Scott Fowler

NCAA tournament: Rodney Hood on the rise at right time for Duke

Rise up.

That is what Duke’s Rodney Hood has been doing all season. Rising up draft boards. Rising into the air for that pure lefty jumper. Rising up into every conversation about how important he will be to the Blue Devils’ chances in the 2014 NCAA tournament.

Hood is not as well-known as Jabari Parker, Duke’s all-everything freshman, but his scoring average is similar (19.3 for Parker, 16.4 for Hood).

“We’re a 1A and 1B type of thing – a 1-2 punch,” Hood said Thursday. “And when we’re on our ‘A’ game, we are at our best as a team.”

As No. 3 seed Duke begins its NCAA tournament Friday at 12:15 p.m. against No. 14 seed Mercer, the Blue Devils know that every team’s scouting report will try to take away Parker first. That means Hood – a sophomore in his first season playing for Duke after one at Mississippi State and another sitting out after his transfer – will be extremely significant.

“He can rise up over anybody going right or left,” Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said of Hood. “Doesn’t matter to him. He bails them out a lot of times by hitting big-time shots.”

Hood also is one of Duke’s premier defenders. It was his suggested adjustment against N.C. State’s T.J. Warren that allowed the Blue Devils to better contain Warren in the second half of Duke’s ACC tournament victory.

“Rodney is as good a player as there is,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after that game. “He played Warren head-on.”

Hood also drew the controversial charge against Syracuse’s C.J. Fair that caused Jim Boeheim to implode and get himself ejected from the second Syracuse-Duke game.

Sadly for Duke fans, Hood is probably gone despite having two more years of eligibility. Krzyzewski seemed to indicate as much during the ACC tournament when he said at a news conference he wished he had Hood for “more than one year.”

Hood said Thursday, though, that he had not made an NBA decision. Most mock drafts now project him as a first-round pick in the 12-20 range.

“I haven’t even thought about that side of it,” Hood said of the NBA speculation. “That (the assumption he will go pro) is something that’s just been glued to me, but I haven’t made that decision. It’s not even a 50-50 thing. I haven’t thought about it.”

Hood noted his mother, a high school principal in Mississippi, places major emphasis on education. He vowed one day to get his degree whatever happens with the NBA.

“Graduating from Duke, coming from Mississippi, that’s a big-time deal,” Hood said. “That’s something I’m looking forward to.”

At Mississippi State, Hood (6-8, 215) was just a jump shooter. By his own admission, he never drove to the basket. He transferred after the coach who recruited him – Rick Stansbury – retired in 2012. At Duke, Hood has become far better at slashing, although finishing his drives remains a work in progress.

“Me and the other guys, we didn’t finish against Virginia,” Hood said of Duke’s ACC tournament final loss to the Cavaliers. “In the first half, I think we were 5-for-17 in the paint.”

In the NBA, Hood will need to get stronger and become a better rebounder to thrive. But his shooting stroke and defensive ability will make him one of the players the Charlotte Bobcats ultimately consider if he declares early for the draft.

For now, though, Hood just wants to win.

“We’re treating it like our last game,” Hood said of Friday’s contest against Mercer. “Because if we lose, it is.”

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