UK Men's Basketball

Meet the Cats: Jon Hood focuses on fun for senior season

Kentucky guard Jon Hood shot a short jumper against Mississippi State.  Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky guard Jon Hood shot a short jumper against Mississippi State. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Before an interview session began, Jon Hood playfully notified reporters what questions he considered well past their expiration date. Taking the bait and keeping a straight face, the reporter asked those questions right out of the gate.

How's the knee?

"I actually got one of those (questions)," Hood said playing along. "'What?! That was two years ago.'"

Hood is fully recovered from the torn anterior cruciate ligament that sidelined him in the 2011-12 season.

Are you still here?

"There's that one," Hood said. "And the gray hair. And how many degrees are you going to end up with?"

A fifth-year senior, Hood noted the importance of a quality not immediately associated with Kentucky basketball: fun.

"If you don't have fun with it, there's no point coming out here," he said.

Hood spoke with a light-hearted zeal of a convert. Only last season he seemed to be a gloomy Gus. Of course, playing 53 minutes in UK's first 23 games can put a strain on anyone's outlook.

Hood put in work. He's always the first UK player to hit the Rupp Arena court to get in extra shooting before games. Yet, he played sparingly. UK Coach John Calipari spoke of self-confidence as a factor.

Hood's season turned around when he received calls from former teammates DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton.

"'Why doesn't it look like you're having any fun?'" Hood said those players asked. "'Smile. That's not the Hoodie we knew.'

"I've been very optimistic since then."

Hood lightened up. His basketball outlook brightened up. Down the stretch, he became a scrappy rebounder and viable, though prudent, shooter.

As part of John Calipari's first recruiting class at UK, Hood became close to fellow freshmen like John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Cousins and Orton. The latter two could detect something wasn't right.

"I came in and I didn't crack a smile," Hood said. " ... They knew my demeanor. That wasn't me last year."

Of course, the transformation was not as simple as flipping a happy switch.

"The relaxation part, yeah," he said. "You just don't have to care. You have to not care about messing up. As long as you mess up at 100 mph, you can most of the time make up for it."

Hood recalled getting beat on a crossover move by Florida's Mike Rosario, then recovering in time to block the shot. He also cited Michael Kidd-Gilchrist making a similar play against Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor in the 2012 national championship game.

So, to ask about playing time this coming season — another familiar question to Hood's ears — is to get a reply grounded in a healthy perspective.

"Jarrod (Polson) and I were talking about it last night," he said. "We just want to have fun. As long as we have fun, everything else will take care of itself.

"But if you're not having fun playing a game, there's no point in playing the game."

Jon Hood

Uniform number: 4

Height, weight: 6-7, 215

Position: Guard

Class: Senior

Hometown: Madisonville, Ky.

High school: North Hopkins

Twitter: @jonnylightning4