INDIANAPOLIS (AP) As Jon Hood watched Kentucky starters come and go over these last five seasons, the 6-foot-7 guard polished his scouting skills.
He didn’t have much choice.
The seldom-used senior has defended 17 NBA draft picks – a number that will almost certainly increase whenever this current tournament run ends. He’s simulated dozens of other pros on the Wildcats’ scout team, and as his career winds down, Hood explains he’s learned a few things from taking all those lumps.
”It’s the little things, like don’t back down, no matter who comes at you,” Hood said Saturday. ”If DeMarcus Cousins argues a call with you in a pick-up game, don’t back down.”
He hasn’t. Despite making just one start and averaging 4.9 minutes and 1.1 points in his college career, Hood still wants to play pro basketball somewhere next season before pursuing a more lasting and perhaps fitting career, coaching.
Perhaps no player in the nation is better suited for a coaching job, given Hood’s keen eye for spotting talent.
Hood watched five of his college teammates – John Wall, Cousins, Patrick Paterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton – get taken in the first round of the 2010 draft. Four more Wildcats were chosen the next year including Enes Kanter and Brandon Knight, who were top-eight picks. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the top two picks in 2012, leading a six-man contingent of Kentucky draftees, and last year, Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin joined the first-round parade.
Had Noel been healthy entering the draft, Hood likely would have had the unusual distinction of playing with three No. 1 overall picks – Wall, Davis and Noel.
But what he’s enjoyed as much as defending those future stars in practice is playing the part of an NBA shooter against them.
”I can’t even count how many I’ve been. My favorite? I guess all the guys who have the green light to jack it up,” said Hood, who has taken almost 60 percent of his 95 career shots from 3-point range. ”Being guys like Rotnei Clarke and John Jenkins, that’s fun.”
Kentucky’s roster certainly has more talented players than Hood, Kentucky’s 2009 Mr. Basketball Award winner, though nobody is more respected.
He’s the rarest commodity Kentucky has, a fifth-year senior who has endured every twist and turn of John Calipari’s career in the Bluegrass State. He won a national championship in 2012, experienced the embarrassing first-round NIT loss last season, has recovered from a torn ACL and will make his third Final Four trip if the eighth-seeded Wildcats (27-10) can beat second-seeded Michigan (28-8) in Sunday’s Midwest Regional final at Indianapolis.
”He knows what he’s talking about because he’s been around basketball a long time,” backup forward Alex Poythress said. ”He’s been around college basketball for five years, you know. He’s not going to mince words, so we just try to have open ears and listen to him.”
Even Calipari has been impressed with Hood’s transformation from star prep player to a tutor for future NBA stars.
”He went from overwhelmed to a little angry to one of the greatest kids I’ve ever coached,” Calipari said. ”He’s playing with joy, which is what we are trying to teach.”
These days, Hood couldn’t imagine life any other way.
”They taught me to treat people with respect, to try and help make people’s lives better,” he said. ”They taught me to keep it real and don’t ever back down.”