Jon Hood is anxious to get back on the court.
In fact, he’s been counting down the days to the start of preseason workouts, and Big Blue Madness can’t come soon enough for Hood, who sat out last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a pickup game last summer. From start to finish, Hood watched from the sidelines and behind the scenes as Kentucky captured its eighth national title.
“I can’t wait to play this year,” Hood said. “I’m anxious and ready to go. That’s one of the steps toward playing (a game), because you’ve got to practice first. I’m ready to start practicing.”
Watching his teammates achieve success was just as painful as the rehabilitation process for the 6-foot-7 Madisonsville native, Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 2009. Because of his injury, Hood gained a medical redshirt and will get a mulligan for his junior season. Going into the preseason, Hood, a senior in the classroom, said his knee is “100 percent” a year removed from surgery.
“It was hard going through practices and games not being able to play,” he said. “It’s one of the hardest things I think I’ve ever done. It was extremely frustrating and the hardest thing — not being able to play basketball for a year.”
Although he wasn’t on the court, Hood gained knowledge through watching and analyzing from the bench. he hopes that extra knowledge will translate into success on the court.
“I got to learn a little bit about coaching and what coach (John Calipari) wants,” he said. “It was good to see that side of it. I think that will (play) a role into my improvement this year and after I get done (playing) and I wanted to coach. For this year, (sitting out gave me the opportunity) to understand a little bit better about what he’s saying.”
Hood scored 46 points during his first two seasons with the Wildcats, and he is the only player remaining from Calipari’s first Kentucky squad three years ago. He’s seeking a breakout season that has eluded him during his first three years in Lexington.
“I’ve been around a while, and I know what to expect,” he said. “I know how to play, I know when to go, when to shoot, when not to shoot. I can’t really say whether it will be a breakout year or not, I just want to get out and play.”
Hood participated in the 2011 Final Four and has rubbed elbows with 15 NBA draft selections, including top picks Anthony Davis and John Wall. He added that last year’s Final Four experience was a memorable one despite not being able to contribute to the team’s success.
“It was fun being around those guys,” he said. “We were really, really close. Obviously, I wish I could have been out there playing with them, but you can’t change it now and you might as well live with it.”
At the same time, Hood wasn’t surprised by Kentucky’s 38-2 season and its run-the-table performance during the Southeastern Conference regular season.
“I thought that we had the potential all along,” he said. “Everybody thought we had that potential. It’s just something that we had to come out and do.”
Hood said “people make too much of a big deal” about his Kentucky roots and being a part of a national championship squad.
“Being a Kentucky boy, a Kentucky kid, it doesn’t matter, it was the Final Four,” he said. “The Final Four is a college basketball player thing, the national championship is a college basketball player thing, it’s not a Kentucky-kid thing.”
Understandably, Hood could live off the first three years of memories, but he wants to be a contributor instead of a bench-warmer for the next two seasons. He’s not sure if he will be a Darius Miller-type contributor or even to the magnitude of former Kentucky standout Josh Harrellson, but he said he “just wants to get out and play” and see what transpires.
“I’ll lead as I can and go from there,” he said. “I think I’m a leader on and off the court, but I just want to lead when I can and help the guys whoever and whatever I can, whether that’s on or off the court. I’ll be glad to do it. I’ve got to get into it and start doing it.”
Since getting clearance to return to the floor, Hood has improved his offensive skills. He placed an added emphasis on his outside shot, with an increased spin on the ball and focusing on a comfortable release on the ball.
“My shot has gotten a lot better, and I am better than I was before I got hurt,” he said. “I just want to get back out there and play and show people what I can do.”
Hood likes the makeup of Calipari’s fourth Kentucky team and has been impressed with the skill level the newcomers possess.
“They’re good and they’re hard workers,” he said. “They’re really athletic, and they listen to Coach during individual (workouts). We’re going to be good again.”
He said Kentucky’s top priority is defending its national title.
“We want to get back this year,” he said. “We have to listen to Coach and do what he says the best we can and don’t hold anything back in practice, just work hard.”
But he added that the Cats aren’t into making predictions about back-to-back national championships.
“(Making predictions) is not what smart people do,” Hood said. “We just want to play and have fun. If we play, have fun and play to the best of our abilities, we’re going to be all right.”
UK Preview: Jon Hood counting the days until he can play again
Jon Hood (Clay Jackson / October 1, 2012)