Rodney Hood Talks About His Injury, Duke’s March Madness, The Young Jazz Nucleus And More

If you’ve never had plantar fasciitis, I sincerely hope you never do. If you’ve had it, you know what I know from experience: It’s one of the absolute worst injuries you can get. An irritation of the tissue underneath your heel and arch, plantar fasciitis feels like your foot is being ripped in half, and frustratingly, there’s no specific remedy. You can only rest, rehab and hope it gets better at some point.

For a rookie trying to carve out a spot in the NBA, such an injury makes things that much more challenging.

“It was very tough dealing with that, because you just want to be out there playing,” Jazz rookie Rodney Hood told Dime a few hours before his former teammates at Duke tipped off against Robert Morris. “Sometimes I’d have an experience where I’d try to be tough, and it would just get a little worse. It’s great to be all the way healthy now, and to make progress on that end.”

With his feet finally cooperating with him, Hood has flourished in March, scoring more than 11 points per game. His signature performance came against the Hornets, when he scored 24 points in just 21 minutes, hitting all five of his three-pointers. The sweet-shooting guard also had 20 points against Houston and 19 against the Warriors, two of the best teams in the West.

This isn’t to say Hood hasn’t had the typical first-year bumps in the road, but last year’s No. 23 overall pick has more than validated himself as a significant contributor for a young Utah squad that has had a prosperous second half and appears poised for big things in the near future.

“I feel great,” Hood said. “I’m just getting back into the swing of things. I was out a long time, so I’m getting back in real game shape and trying to finish out the season strong.”

Dime chatted with Hood about dealing with injuries, his recent run of success and his thoughts on March Madness. (The interview has been edited and condensed.)

A Humble Blue Devil

No, I try to stay away from that. It’s probably a sensitive subject for Gordon.

~ Rodney Hood

How’s your bracket doing?

I haven’t really filled one out. I’m just trying to keep up with Duke, so I’m interested to see how they do tonight. I mean, March Madness is just fun in general, to watch all these teams play.

With you and your Jazz teammates, is there any healthy trash talk going on? I mean, Gordon Hayward almost hit one of the greatest shots of all time against Duke.

No, I try to stay away from that. It’s probably a sensitive subject for Gordon.

(Laughs) Good point.

We only talk trash when we play against each other in the regular season. There are a lot of guys on teams who played in the ACC, and most of the time Duke wins! So it’s always fun to trash talk before a game.

Looking back at your experience last year, obviously it ended too soon. Would you say it’s kind of the Tournament in a nutshell, that you run into a team like Mercer that just gets hot?

Most definitely. Obviously, you want to be on the other side of the score, but that’s the Tournament. Any team can get beaten on any given day. If you’re not ready on that day, then you will be beaten, because for every team, this is their last chance to prove themselves, or this is the icing on the cake to their season, so you have to be ready to play at all times.

Do you keep in touch with Coach K? I know he keeps in touch with many of his former players.

Yeah, I talk to him; every now and then, he’ll check in just to see how things are going. I talk to the assistant coaches all the time, just to stay in contact. I had a great time there at Duke, and I was one of the captains there, so that’s something that’s going to last for a long time.

What’s been the biggest adjustment for you going from college to the pro game and lifestyle?

I think basketball-wise, it’s just the length of the season. You’re always practicing, you’re always got a game the next day and the next day, back-to-back. You’ve just got to be mentally tough. I think it takes about 10-15 games to get your feet wet. It’s not just coming into the league and just killing it, you have to be patient.

The Youngsters of Utah

We always hang out with each other, and I think it helps us out on the court as well.

~ Rodney Hood

Utah has a really young nucleus, but you guys are coming along fast with Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, yourself, Derrick Favors and so on. How exciting is it to be a part of something that looks to have so much promise in the future?

It’s very exciting. It’s rare to have this young and this talented a team, and since the All-Star break we’ve been doing a great job as far as coming together. Now, we’re expected to win a lot of these games, and it’s fun to go do it with guys that are your age or a little bit older.

Do you guys hang out off the court at all?

Yeah, we hang out a lot, whether it’s going out to eat when we get to a new city, or just having fun on the bus and stuff like that. We always hang out with each other, and I think it helps us out on the court as well.

That sounds a lot like college, honestly. Do you miss the college lifestyle at all?

Yeah, I miss college a lot, from the basketball part of it to the everyday life. I kind of miss school as well, just being around the guys and my friends that I grew to love and consider like my brothers. It’s a time I’ll always treasure.

You mentioned you keep up with the coaches. Do you talk to some of the guys you played with? I was specifically thinking of Jabari Parker. He had a much worse injury than you had, but you guys were both kind of dealing with that at the same time.

Yeah, I actually talked to Jabari a couple days ago just to make sure he’s in good spirits, and we just kind of check up on each other at all times. He was having a great year before he got hurt, and I know he’s really motivated to get back and prove himself all over again.

What player on your team do you think you’ve learned the most from, and what have you taken in particular?

I’ve learned the most from Gordon. He’s a guy who’s been in the league just a couple of years, and he’s been through what I’m going through in terms of the rookie growing pains. And he’s always in my ear telling me to be aggressive and play my game and not think so much, so he’s been a huge help for my improvement this year.

Which players do you feel like have been the toughest to match up against, and that you’ve learned the most from competing against?

Oh man, I’ve learned from a lot of players. In the preseason, we played against Kobe Bryant before he got hurt. I learned a lot from him just from his footwork, and we had a small conversation. He’s just a great player, and it’s always good to play against competitors like that. Guys like Jamal Crawford … there are a lot of players I’ve learned a lot from, but those two guys in particular.

Do you ever just stop and look around and take it all in?

I do it every single game. There are some guys in the league like Joe Johnson, who was one of my favorite players growing up. Or playing against someone like Jason Terry, guys who are not as big now in the game, but back in the day they were one of the best players in the league. Having the chance to play with them and get knowledge from them, that’s huge.

You’ve had some ups and downs, but you’ve obviously shown you have what it takes to be a good NBA player. How far do you think you can go with it?

I think I can be a pivotal piece for a great team in the league. Whether that involves being an All-Star or just being respected in the league, I don’t really know where it will take me individually, but I think I can really help a team — hopefully the Utah Jazz — have a great season and make some noise in the playoffs.

Utah has had a great second half. What do you feel this means for your team’s future?

I think this year, we’re seeing the plan working, and teams are really taking notice of what we’re doing, and seeing that we’re one of the up-and-coming teams. I think something dramatic would have to happen for us to pull it off this year, but I think next year, it’ll be a very exciting time for us. We’re just going to have to get better and keep on the path that we’re on.