Kentucky hopes Jon Hood's energy rubs off on freshmen

broberts@herald-leader.comFebruary 11, 2014 

Kentucky Wildcats guard Jon Hood (4) drove the baseline after grabbing a rebound as the University of Kentucky played Mississippi State in Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, MS., Saturday, February 08, 2014. This is first half action. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff

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Asked Tuesday about his spark-plug performance in Saturday's victory over Mississippi State and what it means going forward, UK senior Jon Hood tried to take the diplomatic route.

He started with a variation of the adage that hard work pays off.

"If guys play good and play with energy, then they're ..." Hood said, before trailing off.

"Then they can, uhh ..." he said, before stopping again.

Finally, the honest response.

"No, I really don't," Hood said with a smile. "I have no idea. I was going to try to make it sound like I did. But I have no clue. We'll see. Only Coach knows."

Hood played 10 minutes in the first half Saturday, entering the game with the Cats down 17-13 and looking lethargic against inferior competition.

UK went on a 17-4 run from there, with Hood nailing a corner three-pointer, grabbing a couple of rebounds and adding some much-needed energy to a contest that didn't have much up to that point.

He earned praise from his teammates and Coach John Calipari. He played only three minutes in the second half.

So forgive Hood if he doesn't think Saturday's performance will translate to more minutes down the road.

Even if Hood never steps on the floor again this season, his coaches and teammates say he's an important part of this UK squad.

"I would say Jon Hood has been one of our most prominent leaders," said assistant coach Kenny Payne. "He's one of the most energetic guys in practice, totally positive, comes in every day and works his tail off. And when he got his opportunity, he took advantage of it and played really well. I thought it would be hard for us to win that game at Mississippi State without him."

Payne acknowledged that it's "extremely hard" to be a leader when you rarely see any time on the court.

Before Saturday, Hood had played in just seven games all season — never more than six minutes in any contest. The last time he played more than two minutes in a game had been the victory over Robert Morris on Nov. 17.

"But he's never deterred," Payne said. "He's always being positive, he's always talking to guys, motivating guys, and when his time came, again, he produced."

The young McDonald's All-Americans on this team have plenty of reasons to listen to what Hood has to say.

The NBA players he's practiced against and played alongside over the last four-plus years is mind-boggling: Anthony Davis, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Nerlens Noel, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Patrick Patterson, and the list goes on.

He's been a part of two teams that ran over regular-season competition — one that won a national title, one that didn't. He's been a part of two teams that have struggled through some SEC games — one that found its way to the Final Four, one that ended a most disappointing season dodging Robert Morris fans as they stormed the court.

His current team — and his final one at UK — has had its share of struggles, but Hood sees reason for hope.

"The communication is a lot better this year than it was last year," he said. "I think that's a main key. I would say we are growing quicker than last year's team."

He noted that recent UK freshmen, with the exception of a few, have always struggled through the first half of the season. He also pointed out that, usually, they start to get it together sometime in the middle of SEC play.

"That's right about this time," he said.

Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein — another veteran, by UK's standards — said if this team's stars want to take that next step, watching what Hood did Saturday might be a good place to start.

"That's how everybody needs to play — with that much energy and effort," he said. "Just flying around and doing all the little stuff right. That's what being a vet is.

"He knows how to do it all. Being young, you think you know it and you have a game where you do it. Then the next game you don't do it and you get all mixed up and you don't know what you're trying to do. His situation — he's played with a lot of pros and he's been through the works. That's why his game is like that."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216Twitter: @NextCatsBlog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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