- C.L. Brown, ESPN Staff Writer
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DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke's Rodney Hood contemplated getting his grandmother to fix a plate for coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Those from the South know what that means: a slow-cooked, pork-infused and often instant-sleep-inducing home-cooked meal. Some of the good stuff that may or may not be cringe-inducing to those who have never tried or never heard of it before.
"He says he loves eating pickled pigs' feet," sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon said of Hood. "I never really ate pigs' feet before, but according to him, he says it's really good."
Sulaimon, who is from Houston, paused before adding: "I don't think anybody is that brave to try it."
Hood represents the Deep South to his core. He considers Monta Ellis, who went straight to the NBA from Hood's home state of Mississippi, his favorite player and keeps track of him on almost a nightly basis. If you catch Hood with headphones on, he is likely playing some track from Lil Boosie, a Louisiana rapper. And whenever he gets a chance, Hood is singing the praises of soul food to his teammates.
"They haven't tried it, being from different places of the country, and they miss out on good food, so I just try to share it with them," Hood said. "They still can't get over the name, but if they tried the food, they'd like it."
Junior guard Quinn Cook has had a plate.
Hood sat out last season as a transfer from Mississippi State, so while the Blue Devils played in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving break, he went home to Meridian, Miss.
Cook and Hood have been roommates the past two seasons and don't exactly cook for themselves often. So Hood brought back to school his leftovers, which included an entree that was foreign to Cook.
"So I ate some chitterlings for the first time in my life," said Cook, a Washington, D.C., native. "It was good. It was good."
Maybe all that food has caught up to Hood.
Before the Eastern Michigan game and again Saturday against Florida State, Hood needed to be replaced in the starting lineup at the last minute because he got sick prior to tipoff.
His father, Ricky, said it hadn't been a problem at any time in Hood's career and that "it's definitely not the competition" getting to him because he has already played in so many big games.
Whatever it is, it's about the only glitch Hood has had this season.
Hood has served up a distinct "Dirty South" flavor to the Blue Devils' lineup, averaging 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He leads the ACC in 3-point percentage, making 44.9 percent of his attempts.
All while, Krzyzewski says, he is still growing into his role.
"As he's become more familiar and more comfortable with playing and the pressures that come with being one of our top players, I think he's become more vocal," Krzyzewski said. "The main thing for Rodney is he shows up every day as an example of how a player should show up to practice."
Duke's highly touted freshman Jabari Parker was expected to come in and do as he's done, leading the team in scoring (18.7) and rebounding (8.0), but many outside the program didn't know what type of impact Hood would have. His teammates did.
They watched Hood often mimic the opponent's best player in practice last season. At times, he seemed like he wasn't just the best player on the scout team.
"Sometimes he was our best player," senior guard Tyler Thornton said. "He did what he needed to do to help us prepare for teams who had really good scorers, and sometimes in practice he was better than the guys we were preparing for."
That's why his teammates aren't surprised by his results this season. They knew that if he could improvise and be that good in practice, all they had to do was wait until he was running in a structured offense with plays in Krzyzewski-created sets.
"When he came in, it wasn't, 'Where's Rodney going to fit in?' it was, 'We know we have Rodney Hood,'" forward Amile Jefferson said. "We know what he's going to give us night in and night out, and we know he's going to be a leader for us."
Hood comes from a basketball family. His father was an undersized post player who transferred after one year at Mississippi State and finished at Murray State. His mother, Vicky, played at Mississippi State. His brother, Ricky Jr., played for Chattanooga, as did his sister, Whitney.
His mother also used to coach a team, and 3-year-old Rodney would sit in the stands observing.
"He'd watch his mom coach the team. He was a student of game all along," his father said. "There's very little about basketball that he doesn't understand."
Krzyzewski had accepted only three transfers during his three-plus decades in Durham before Hood. Unlike Roshown McLeod, Dahntay Jones and Seth Curry, Hood was named a team captain before ever playing a game for the Blue Devils.
That came as a surprise to Hood, even though Krzyzewski had brought up the idea before.
"I thought maybe in the middle of the season I could become [a captain], but I hadn't played a game here so I didn't know if I was ready," Hood said. "[Krzyzewski] just said he had faith in me, so before the team, right before the first game, he announced me and Tyler were captains. It was great for me. I play better when guys depend on me."
Sulaimon leaned on Hood heavily last season as a freshman, even though he wasn't playing. Sulaimon was often matched against Hood in practice, and he quickly got up to speed on what it meant to play at this level.
"I think out of everybody it helped me the most," Sulaimon said. "He was basically the best-kept secret last year. Defensively, he took me under his wing as an older player, even though he didn't play, and anything he can help me with, offensively and defensively, he always gives me his advice."
Had Rick Stansbury not retired from Mississippi State, Hood probably would not be in Durham. Hood was at home in Starkville.
It's part of the reason why Duke, which initially began recruiting him as a sophomore in high school, backed off early in the process. The speculation circulated fairly early that Hood would not leave the borders of the crooked-letters state.
Hood was a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Mississippi, and he twice led his high school to the 6A state championship game, winning the highest classification once.
He believed Mississippi State could win too, so he signed with the Bulldogs just as his father and mother did years ago. Hood was joining a team with a roster full of guys he either played AAU with or knew before arriving on campus.
Heading into the 2011-12 season, senior guard Dee Bost was coming off an all-SEC season. Junior forward Renardo Sidney, for all his shortcomings, still had big-time potential. And Hood was a talent who could have played anywhere but chose to play for the home team.
It was important to Hood that his family be able to attend most of his games, and he was close enough that even his grandparents came to just about every home game. In theory, it was all perfect for Hood.
Then reality got in the way.
While individually he had reason to be pleased -- making the SEC all-freshman team after averaging 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game -- the team struggled. The Bulldogs lost seven of their final nine games, and their season ended in the first round of the NIT. Shortly after, Stansbury announced he was retiring.
Hood didn't wait to see who would be the next coach. He felt like he should move on too.
"I came to play for Coach Stansbury and his system," Hood said. "If I was going to start over, then I wanted to go somewhere I could get better and win and see if I was a really good player. That's why I came to Duke."
Now if he can just work pickled pigs' feet onto the menu of a team meal.