Me vs. Rodney Hood (Utah Jazz)

by Kenny Eller on June 6, 2015

Me with Rodney Hood of the Utah Jazz

Me with Rodney Hood of the Utah Jazz

Bradenton, FL –

We walked into the restaurant after our three games of 1-on-1, both living a dream.  Different dreams, for sure.  But dreams, nonetheless.

“We”, being myself and Rodney Hood of the Utah Jazz.

I had just realized a dream of mine by testing my skills against my first active NBA player, something that when I reflect on where I started with this journey, seems rather surreal.

Rodney on the other hand, a little over a month ago, finished his rookie season in the NBA and finished it strong, being named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for April.

I had to know more about the man who walked around so unassuming, yet has seemingly trained the basketball to find the net on nearly every attempt.  A skill set that I had begrudgingly just witnessed first hand.

We placed our food on the long, metal, high-top table located near the center of the establishment, sat down, and then the 23rd pick in this past year’s NBA Draft lowered his head and began to pray.

He’s come a very long way in his 22 years of living and he’s thankful.

Rodney Hood is humbly, thankful.

The Player

Rodney grew up on the east side of Mississippi, near the border of Alabama, in the town of Meridian.  He grew up, the youngest of three children, in a family that all played basketball.

His parents, Ricky and Vicky, both played ball at Mississippi State while his older brother and sister, Ricky Jr. and Whitney, played at Chattanooga.

Still, with basketball embedded in his genes, the NBA wasn’t really something young Rodney thought about.  That would come much later.

Even when he began to sprout up in height (now 6’8″) and national high school basketball rankings, being ranked as high as 16th overall during his senior year of high school, playing college basketball like his brother was at the top of his dreams.

But Mississippi’s two-time Gatorade Player of the Year wouldn’t go on to just play.

He starred at Mississippi State and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team that first year.  After his coach at Mississippi State retired following his freshman season, he decided to transfer to Duke.  He was forced to sit out that first season at Duke, due to NCAA transfer rules, but came back the following year as the Team Captain and averaged 16.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.

It was while at Duke that he realized that he had a real shot at the ever elusive NBA dream.

In April of 2014, Rodney officially declared for the NBA Draft and then on June 26, 2014 the Utah Jazz made him the 23rd selection in the National Basketball Association’s Draft.

The Rookie – Overcoming Adversity

Rodney’s rookie season in the NBA most likely didn’t go exactly how he envisioned it.  It went more the way a good book reads.  Hope, promise, adversity, more hope, even more adversity and then overcoming it all to find wild success.

Hood missed 31 games this past year due to planter fasciitis in one foot, which then jumped to the other when he admittedly came back a little too soon.

But Rodney stayed strong and finished the season by averaging 16.7 ppg in April and was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month, joining Trey Burke and a guy named Karl Malone as the only Utah Jazz players to win such an award.

Me vs. Rodney Hood

(Video Link)

I met Rodney in Bradenton as he was there training at IMG Academy in preparation for next season.

As you can see from the video, Rodney made quick work of me.  He cruised to three easy wins.  Lionel Richie would have been singing in the background, if it were only Sunday.

Final scores were 15-0, 15-6, and 15-1.

He made almost every shot…literally.  Without exaggeration, Hood shot at or better than 90% in our three games.

Truthfully, I couldn’t even get him to breathe hard and I tried my very best.

I walked into the gym knowing he was one of the best 450 players in the World, and I was still stunned at his efficiency.

The few times I actually touched the ball, his height disturbed my shot, causing me to rush it.  Even when I realized he was going to let me get the shots off, it still bothered me.  It’s not every day that I get to match-up with a guy that skilled and 6’8″.  Ok, in reality I’ve never matched up against anyone like him.

But I loved every second of it.

It’s extremely inspiring to see and experience someone so great at something.

And he was just as inspiring off the court as he was on it.

The Man

He was so much more than I expected.

He was kind, every letter of the word humble, and very aware of the platform he’s been blessed to stand on.

In a world full of people so willing to shout “look at me”, Rodney Hood seems at ease letting his work do all of the talking.

After asking him some questions during lunch, Hood quickly turned the conversation to my journey.  He listened intently.  He cared.

A part of me wanted to tell him, you do realize you are one of the very best in the world, don’t you!?  That it’s ok to boast a little and that you’ve worked so very hard to get where you are.  Harder than most will ever begin to understand.

But I found myself drawn in and instead sharing how impressed I was with his 22 year old self.

I felt this great want to introduce him to everyone I know.  This hope inside that this world never changes him.

And I don’t believe it will.

He credited his family for his outlook and approach and said he understands just how fleeting his current position in life can be.

Faith

He raised his head from prayer and I somewhat jokingly asked, “Did you pray for me too?”

He smiled and said, he did.

Faith.  Oh where would I be without my faith?

This journey began so selfishly, with my singular want to play basketball with Michael Jordan and now every single conversation about mevsMJ.com turns into a conversation about God.

My time with Rodney was no exception.

Hood shared that his grandparents have played a pivotal role in his spiritual life.  His grandmother gave him a scripture that he reads before every game he plays.  It’s found in the book of Psalms and reads:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23

Battling through the adversity of his rookie season only brought him closer to God.

“Things were moving very fast in a lot of areas of my life.  I had been carrying around the Bible my Grandma gave me and one day I just decided to pick it up and start reading.  I was going through the ups and downs of my rookie season and it helped me a lot.  It’s now just become a part of my life,” he explained.

Hood fully understands and gives credit for just how far God has brought him.

He gets that there is a greater purpose at work and he’s doing his best to make the most of it.

Hard Work

“My parents taught me at a young age that anything worth having is worth working hard for,” Hood shared at lunch.

Hard work being two words that kept coming up in our conversations in between games on the court and now between bites of food.

He went on, “I’ve always, even as a kid, been able to have this extreme focus towards the things I want to accomplish.  To put my head down and just go to work.  I know that regardless of how things are going or what I’m going through, that hard work will get me there.  It may not always be easy, but in the end working through the tough times will make the end results even sweeter.”

I was fully leaning into the conversation and now smiling as I listened.  Emotions welled up inside of me.

Rodney was speaking my message back to me, even though he had only heard of mevsMJ.com a few days earlier.

I was more blown away with him as a person than I was as a basketball player, if that was even possible.

I guess I knew I wouldn’t have handled the dream he is living as well as he is…not at 22 anyway.

His outlook and maturity, so far beyond his years.

Humility

Rodney with Joe Johnson in 2005

Rodney with Joe Johnson in 2005

It was the summer of 2005, when a then 10 year old Rodney and his Mom were in New Orleans, visiting the sites.  They had just left the aquarium and had decided to go shopping when they surprisingly spotted Joe Johnson of the Phoenix Suns.

Rodney was beyond excited but too shy to approach Johnson.  Seeing an NBA player wasn’t something that happened in Meridian.  But Hood’s Mom did what Mom’s do and approached Johnson for her thrilled son.

Johnson was kind and so humble.  He took a picture with little Rodney and signed an envelope that Hood’s Mom happened to have.

That short encounter was huge for Hood.

“It was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me,” he explained.

“And I remember that, and how I felt,” he continued.

“When kids come up to me now, I see myself in them, because I was that kid.  I want every interaction to be as close to perfect as it can be for anyone I meet, young or old, because I know the impact that those moments can have.”

“I know that if I’m respectful, patient and kind that they will remember that.  I also know that if I brush them off they will remember that.  I want them to have a great experience.  I know they see me differently because I’m in the NBA and I take that responsibility seriously.”

“What may be a small moment of time for me, could be something they remember for the rest of their life.  I know I still remember my time with Joe,” he said reflecting.

This past season when the Jazz played in Brooklyn against the Nets, the kid got to play against the man that impacted him that day in Louisiana.  He guarded Joe and Joe guarded him.

After the game he was able to thank Johnson for being a blessing in his life, so many years earlier.

Today, Rodney is being that same blessing in lives of others.

Giving Back

Rodney and his brother Ricky have come together to form the Mississippi Express AAU basketball team.  It’s a travel team that has a goal of winning, but Hood was quick to point out that his main purpose in starting it was to give opportunity to the kids of Mississippi through the game of basketball.

Also this August, Rodney will be holding the “Welcome to the Hood” community camp, geared towards bringing the city together.  Over the two days, there will be BBQ, fun slides, food and backpack giveaways stuffed with school supplies.

“It will be a fun time.  It’s hard for a lot of people back home and I want to give them something to look forward to and hopefully make a positive impact going into the school year,” Hood said.

A Difference Maker

I’m now a huge Rodney Hood fan and I let him know as much in a phone conversation Friday evening.  I’m a fan of who he is and wants to be as a human being.

Basketball, even if he enjoys a 15 year career and I pray that he does, will be just a portion of the life that he will live.  Greater than anything he does in the NBA will be the impact he makes on society.  I believe that will be his true legacy.

We all have a platform.  Some larger than others, but we all have one.

Sometimes in cases like mine, we set out on a journey with one goal in mind and are guided in a different direction.

My greatest want in life is to be able to inspire positive growth in the lives of others.  It honestly wasn’t always that way.  This journey has changed me.  And I’m beyond thankful for that.

I pray, that I’m able to look back one day and know that my time was utilized to its fullest.  To know that I made the most of this journey I’ve been blessed to live.

It’s refreshing to meet people like Rodney that in the middle of living their dreams are doing everything they can to make a difference.

Rodney Hood is a special guy and one that I hope you all get the pleasure of meeting in your lifetime.

He’s a difference maker.  One I’m now blessed to know.

Me vs. Michael Jordan…the journey continues.

As always, thank you for your support and for following along.

Thank You!

Me with Rodney Hood

Me with Rodney Hood

Thank you Rodney Hood!  Thank you for taking your time and helping me on this journey.  Thank you for being a difference maker.  Your selfless act will surely inspire many.  I will wear my Jazz gear with pride!

Wearing my new Utah Jazz gear with pride!

Wearing my new Utah Jazz gear with pride!

I must also thank Morgan Jones!  Morgan, who I met four years ago during a basketball workout, has become a great friend and someone I’m so thankful to know.  She’s a special person and has been supporting me since day one.  A couple of weeks ago she reached out and said that she may have a game for me and sure enough, she did.  I can’t thank you enough MJ!  Thank you also for the great video!!!

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If you’re new here, I set out in August 2010 to get a game of 1-on-1 vs. my childhood hero Michael Jordan. This site is about that journey…through every valley, to every mountain top of triumph!

Anything Is Possible with Faith & Hard Work!

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Connect: Twitter (@KennyEller), Instagram (@KennyEller) and mevsMJ.com Facebook Page.

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