This is part of Mark Wiedmer's annual series on teams with the potential to make the basketball Final Four.
Vicky Hood didn't always imagine her son Rodney starring for the Duke Blue Devils. There was a time when the family was completely focused on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Mocs.
"We have two children (son Ricky Jr. and daughter Whitney) with degrees from Chattanooga," Ricky Sr. said last week after watching Duke win easily at Georgia Tech. "Chattanooga means a lot to us."
So in those days when Rodney was still a few years away from starring at Meridian (Miss.) High School and Ricky Jr. was helping UTC win a lot of basketball games -- followed by Whitney as a transfer from Clemson -- Mama Hood kind of thought that Rodney might become her third Moc.
"But then he kept getting taller and taller," she sighed, "and I had a feeling he wouldn't wind up at Chattanooga."
He actually wound up at Mississippi State. But then Bulldogs boss Rick Stansbury and MSU parted ways after Hood's injury-shortened freshman season and the 6-foot-7 forward transferred to Duke.
Now 6-8 and the Blue Devils' second-leading scorer after sitting out last season due to transfer, the 21-year-old Hood is projected by NBADraft.net to be the No. 9 pick in this summer's pro draft.
"Yes, I remember him in our camp," former UTC coach John Shulman said after attending the Duke-Tech game. "Ricky got mad at him about something and benched him. I was like, 'Are you crazy? Now he won't want to play for us.' You could tell he was going to be pretty good, even back then."
He is so good now that he averages 16.1 points a game for the nation's No. 6 Blue Devils, hitting more than 43 percent of his 3-pointers and more than 81 percent of his free throws.
Beyond that, Hood made the defensive play of the year for Duke in Saturday night's win over then-No. 1 Syracuse, drawing a controversial charging foul on the Orange's C.J. Fair with 11 seconds to play. Subsequent technicals on Orange coach Jim Boeheim -- who thought Hood wasn't set -- iced the game for the Dookies, who won 66-60.
"If I had to single one kid out, it would be Hood," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski aIS after securing the 979th victory of his Hall of Fame career. "And that play at the end of the game by Rodney was amazing."
Most of the amazing praise for these Blue Devils (22-6 overall, 11-4 in the ACC) deservedly centers on 6-9 freshman Jabari Parker, who most believe will go first or second in the 2014 draft, should he choose to enter it.
Parker leads Duke in scoring (19.1 ppg), rebounding (8.8) and compliments from opposing coaches, such as Florida State's Leonard Hamilton, who said of the possible national player of the year after a 22-point road loss to the Blue Devils: "There isn't much from a technical standpoint [Parker] is not capable of doing. He's a good ball-handler, good passer; he is smart; he is quick, athletic; and he is focused."
But Hood isn't far behind, and he's just as versatile as Parker, capable of playing as many as four positions on both offense and defense.
Said Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory of the redshirt sophomore: "Hood is an exceptional player and really gives you a tough matchup. ... He just gives you that flexibility."
By the time UTC could seriously offer him a scholarship in the fall of 2011, Hood wasn't very flexible about following in the footsteps of his older brother and sister, however.
"No, not really," he said when asked if he ever came close to signing with the Mocs. "I went to every game I could there when I was growing up. I love the community of Chattanooga, I loved Coach Shulman when he was coaching there. But I kind of had my heart set on Mississippi State by then."
So what does he like about Duke now?
"Everything," he said with a wide grin. "Coach K is making me a better player every day. We play on a big stage every night. And sitting out last year helped me tremendously, and not just with the knee. It really helped me mentally to understand the game better."
This love affair with Duke could continue to hurt UTC's basketball future, however. Ricky Jr. and his wife, Nicole Mattison Hood (another former UTC star) have a 3-year-old son, Ricky III. When Ricky Jr. was asked a few weeks ago who the youngster rooted for -- UTC or Duke -- he said, "Both. He's got plenty of stuff from both schools."
But Rodney Hood said he believes the tide is turning in favor of the Blue Devils.
"I can see him leaning a little more towards Duke every time I see him," Rodney said with a grin.
For UTC fans it's a bittersweet pill to swallow. If only Rodney Hood hadn't grown taller. Then again, if he hadn't grown taller, he wouldn't be so good.
Not that Vicky and Ricky Sr. see Rodney play in person nearly as often as they watched Ricky Jr. and Whitney, Meridian being a good deal closer to Chattanooga than Durham, N.C.
"We've probably only gone to a game six times all season," she said. "We watch him most of the time on ESPN, just like everybody else. We're saving our money for the Final Four."
If Rodney keeps playing as he has to date, that might become a very wise investment.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.