Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Flash Bangs: Julius Hodge

Julius Hodge doesn't care what you think. Truly. He's just happy to be here. When you almost die, life takes on a whole new meaning.

Hodge was born in Harlem NYC in 1983. He grew up in the slums of one of the meanest cities in the 1st world. He was born tough.

Hodge was one of the guys that, no matter where he went as an amateur player, he always drew attention.

He was a 2001 McDonalds All American at St. Raymonds High School for Boys, New Yorks 'Mr Basketball' and the NY Daily's 'Player of the Year' and he was Sports Illustrated's 'Athlete of the Month'. By the end of his time at St. Raymonds he was rated the no.1 Shooting Guard by ESPN and no. 5 overall in the nation (*1).

In an interesting move, Hodge chose North Carolina State (what up BET!) over other suitors. Why? He could have gone to Uconn (fresh off winning a 'chip 2 years prior with Rip Hamilton) and become a bonafide star straight away.

See, Hodge has always done things his own way. Not swayed by public influence like other NY guards to the same extent that Steph, Kenny Anderson and Telfair were, he chose NCState because he could leave his own legacy. Something untarnished by predecessors. The last time State had been competitive? 1983. Damn.

http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=bFolL4Is-sU (highlights of the game. 1 minute 30 secs).

Choosing a major program like Georgia Tech (the way Marbury did) was almost like a let off. A slackers choice. Not to disprespect Marbury's choice, but Hodge would leave his own mark. A unique one. Hodge was good enough to go to the NBA from H.S like Telfair. But he never had the same intense hype and hoopla.

Hodge spent four years at State, as a frosh, he was the leading first year scorer in the ACC. He also won the 2002 offensive rebounding award. Named after who? Lorenzo Charles. Who's that? Well, if you'd watched the video you'd know. Charles made the game winning alley-oop dunk to win the NCAA championship.

Next year, he was named all ACC 1st Team and in the process, recorded the 1st Triple Double in Wolfpack history.

Its interesting to note that, prior to Hodge eventually winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year award in 2004, Josh Howard (Wake Forest) did it. And after? J.J. Redick.

http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=z4KGMohRbf0&feature=related (Hodge gives UCONN the business- sorry Moose).

Hodge went at pick 20 to the Denver Nuggets in the 2005 Draft just as expected. He filled an urgent need at the 2 guard for the Nuggets (*remember they did not have J.R Smith at this stage) placing him alongside Andre Miller and Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately for Hodge, he only played 3 minutes a game. Earl Boykins played a large portion of minutes at the two for Denver along with starter Voshon Lenard.

For various reasons- mainly coaching and the emergence of JR Smith after the trade with New Orleans the next year- Hodge fell out of the rotation almost completely. He played only 14 games as a rookie. Eventually in 06/7 Hodge would battle for major minutes with JR off the bench and got his first start against the best shooting guard in the League on January 5th 2007- Kobe Bryant. Funny thing is, most people expected Hodge to get pulled almost immediately or rack up the fouls as Kobe destroyed him. Nope. Kobe had 8 points that game and Hodge had 16 and a win.

Remember- Hodge was just happy to be alive.

9 months earlier he had come within minutes of dying from blood loss. He was on Interstate 76 (which is in Denver) at around 2am and was the victim of a drive by shooting. A vehicle pulled up alongside him and fired several shots into his car. The perpetrators were never caught....

The ridiculous thing is, that 6 days after his match-up with Kobe, Hodge and Boykins were traded to the Bucks for Steve Blake. Less than a month later Hodge was waved by the Bucks, ending his time in the NBA-for now.

2 years ago Julius (he was named by his older brother) made his way Down Under to Adelaide-known as the City of Churches. The 36er's (obviously the name was stolen from Philly) were struggling. Badly. They had a losing record when Hodge replaced Mike Chappell (who was officially released on the 12th of December 2007) on the 21st of December- 9 days later.

Hodge immediately went on to dominate the NBL (National Basketball League). Even in his first game (which he only saw 19 minutes) Hodge had a modest line of 6pts, 5 boards, 3 assists and a whole lot of dribble penetration. He worked within the team concept- even though he only knew a couple of plays and brought the team within 1 win of 50%.

In his second game, this time against Perth, Hodge was.... interesting. I got to see this game in its entirety on T.V and Hodge had 10 pts, 5 boards and 4 assists- and 8(!) turnovers. The turnovers weren't from poor ball control or offensive fouls, more from a lack of understanding the offense, making a pass to a guy who he thought was about to dive- but instead flared out to the wing. Minor things, mostly from a team standpoint that are adjustable from time.

Again, against Perth, Hodge took over the game- even though his team lost by 21. He blew up, getting his all night long- with 16, 10 and 7. Hodge would come into his own for the rest of the season, drawing double teams and even (against the Melbourne Tigers-eventual NBL champions) a triple team once- its pretty cool to actually see a guy get triple teamed on the halfway line.

Next, against Money Bill Williams' very own Wollongong Hawks, Hodge destroyed everything in sight, with 34 points, 14 boards and 3 steals. They still lost though. This would become a theme for the 36er's. Hodge would dominate the games and put up LeBron like numbers, but the team would still lose. NOTE: This was not his fault. Captain Brett Maher (former Australian Olympian with 500+ games of NBL experience) was injured almost as soon as Hodge arrived and for some reason, the entire bench was non-existent almost the entire season. The other import Lanard Copeland was suspended for games as well- think Ron Artest 2006ish. The 36'ers bench was one of the weakest in the League- and still is.

Hodge- one of my all time favourite NBL players alongside S-Jax, Corey 'Homicide' Williams and Chris Anstey put his stamp on the NBL season with this statline- easily one of the top 5 of the season- 39 points (on 62.5% shooting), 1o rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and his first NBL 3 pointer. 29th January 2008. A date in NBL history- any of the 5 fans of basketball here in Australia could tell you that.

Hodge would go on to become 3rd Team All League (votes are taken after each week of games)- otherwise Hodge would easily have been 2nd team, probably 1st team. Unfortunately, he was unable to lead Adelaide to the playoffs.

Hodge breathed new life into a dying League. He and Williams almost single-handedly added an integrity and flare to the game that was missing since the Mid 1990's. It's shame to see the degrading of such a beautiful game. It really is.

HOWEVA- The NBL will be a different product after this season. Thank GOD.

Whatever Hodge can contribute to the game this year- after once again replacing a failed import- will automatically be seen as a monumental positive. Dude can flat out ball, and he'll find a home in the NBA in the near future. Bet on it. Remember: He's just happy to be alive.

Peace, Hursty.

PS- No, I don't think that Hodge has forgotten about CP3 giving him the dirty down low. Moose- its ok if you don't understand that right now.

PPS- Hodge was named after Julius Erving (by his brother).

PPPS- Julius gained multiple player of the week honours last year and is expected to contend, not just for the all-star game this year (he'll start) but for MVP honours if the 36'ers can win 60% of their games this year (they suck even more right now than last year).
PPPPS- I dont know why the pictures appear as they do, I can't seem to get them to appear where they should. And videos won't upload. Feel free to educate me on rectifying this.

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