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Hood eager to get back to what he's good at

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John Hood looks to return to form after returning from ACL surgery. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Hood looks to return to form after returning from ACL surgery. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Imagine giving up the thing you love the most, having it ripped away due to an unforeseen circumstance, all the while watching the people around you reach the highest heights without you.

That's what Kentucky junior forward Jon Hood experienced last season during Kentucky's 2012 national championship run.

"That was very hard. It's one of those things... it's brutal," said Hood. "It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do as an athlete is to not be able to play the sport that I have a scholarship to play."

Hood suffered a torn ACL in summer workouts and never played in the 2011-12 season.  But that doesn't mean he wasn't paying attention. Or helping out. Or leading his team.

In fact, Hood often served as a motivator and translator for head coach John Calipari to the newcomers as someone who had spent two seasons with him. It was a new role for Hood, but one he needed to relish in order to stay connected with his teammates.

"Just kind of keep the team morale up," said Hood. "Like this is what he wants, this is where he's coming from. That type of stuff."

But even that was difficult for Hood. As much has he wanted to be there for his teammates and help in any way he could, in the back of his mind and in his heart, all he could think about was how much he wanted to be back on the floor.

But who was keeping Hood's morale up during his rehabilitation process?

"Everybody," said Hood. "My girlfriend, Dad, Mom, brother, my family in general. My teammates would do it some last year."

Fast forward to the present where Hood feels like himself again; ready to start his junior season. What did he learn from all that time watching and observing during a championship campaign?

"I learned what Coach Calipari wants, even when he doesn't say it," said Hood. "When he's yelling at somebody, he's yelling at everybody. When he's teaching someone, he's teaching everybody. You don't need to make stupid mistakes right after he tells you (something)."

How to be a leader and an extension of Coach Calipari on the floor. And though he's just 21 years old, he's one of the elder statesmen on this year's roster. With his experience and longevity in the program, he'll continue to be looked to provide guidance to another youthful roster. While most would kill to be Hood's age again, he already feels like an old man. And in comparison to his teammates, he is kind of is.

"I'm an old guy now, figuratively," said Hood. "I'm still 21, that's young, I know, but my knees, ankles, back hurt all the time. I think I can be a leader and I think a lot of people can be leaders for this team as well. We're getting there."

And so is Hood, physically. He is visibly and verbally anxious to hit the Rupp Arena hardwood, and as soon as possible. But how soon?

"I feel like I'm 100 percent," said Hood. "Only time will tell."

As Hood continues to rehab, lead, and be the veteran he's expected to be, his focus is on getting himself ready for that first date with real competition; That quintessential moment where he's reunited with the thing he loves the most.

"I want to get back in front of a crowd and play basketball," said Hood. "That's my main focus right now is to get back in front of a crowd and play the sport that I'm good at."

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