High School Basketball

Wild ride over, Hood back in real world

The Hood family of Madisonville lived in "Bizarro World" the last couple years.

That's what Kelly Hood called the experience of watching her son Jon go from an unknown string bean high school basketball player to big-time college prospect to University of Kentucky signee.

"It wasn't real," Kelly said. "All these college coaches you watch on television come to see your son play, and when he gets up and walks out of the gym, they get up and walk out after him. It was hard to believe."

Then there was the time she took her son's cell phone away for a day, and she took a call from Florida Coach Billy Donovan.

"That's not normal," she said. "It was Bizarro World."

Brian Hood, Jon's dad, had a similar experience when he first took his son to Nashville to tryouts for an AAU team.

"After about 10 minutes, they came over and said, 'He's really good. If he wants to play, we'll take him.'

"I said, 'Is he that good? He wants to play in the SEC.

"They told me, 'He can play anywhere he wants. He's that good.'

"I couldn't believe they were saying that about this skinny kid," Brian said.

Being guests at UK's Big Blue Madness in 2007 was also surreal. Jon and his parents were dazzled by all the hoopla.

The 2007-08 high school season didn't provide much of an escape. Jon's recruiting stock had skyrocketed after an impressive summer in AAU. He had scholarship offers from several SEC schools, including UK, and he drew attention from fans, media and college coaches wherever Madisonville played.

Jon, an athletic 6-foot-7 wing player, didn't seem affected by all the buzz.

"My teammates and parents, especially my mom, kept my head on straight," Hood said. "I just went out and played ball."

He had a solid junior year, averaging 24 points, 8.5 rebounds and six assists. The only downer came when he suffered a broken wrist in the district tournament and missed the rest of the post-season.

Normalcy finally began to return to the Hood household after Jon committed to UK in early May. Jon's parents saw an immediate change in their son.

"He went from fidgety with stress to where it was like he took a deep breath and let it out," Brian said. "He's never looked back. No second thoughts. None."

Kelly Hood said Jon was "not one of those kids that reveled" in the recruiting process. "He stayed in it long enough to make a great choice. End of story."

Or at least the end of a chapter.

After recovering from his wrist injury, Jon spent part of the late summer coming to Lexington to participate in pickup games with UK's players.

Madisonville's first-year coach Marty Cline was an interested observer. "Jon seemed to fit right in," he said.

Going against Patrick Patterson, Jodie Meeks & Co. gave Hood's self-confidence a big boost.

"In my mind, if I can get around these guys and get to the rim, I should be able to do it against anybody in high school," he said.

Hood's senior season at Madisonville should be interesting. He's the only returning starter, so opponents are going to blanket him.

"It'll be a tough grind, but it'll be fun, too, with a new coach," he said. "I know I'm going to see double- and triple-teams. But I have to deal with whatever comes."

Cline, who was the girls' coach at Madisonville before taking over the boys' program this summer, is confident Hood can handle whatever is thrown at him.

"Jon is a gifted player with great court vision and unselfishness," Cline said. "This year he's got to be more assertive offensively, and take more accountability defensively.

"He knows he can't do it alone, that he's got to get his teammates involved. From what I've seen so far, he's been a very positive, patient leader with the younger players."

Hood is an overwhelming choice to win Mr. Basketball, but he said he would gladly pass on a personal award for the grand prize of a Sweet Sixteen title.

But even that's not his primary goal for his senior season.

"Basketball has always been fun for me, and I don't want that ever to change," he said. "It's a game I love to play."

That's the ultimate reality check in a sometimes Bizarro World.