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Notebook: Hood bidding for bigger role with Noel sidelined by all-too-familiar injury

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Jon Hood is expected to see additional minutes with Nerlens Noel sidelined by injury. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Jon Hood is expected to see additional minutes with Nerlens Noel sidelined by injury. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
While the Big Blue Nation breathlessly awaited word on Nerlens Noel's status in the hours that followed the injury suffered by the shot-blocking phenom, Jon Hood was calmly resigned.

You see, Hood had a clear view of Noel landing awkwardly. He plainly saw Noel's left knee bending in an unpleasantly unnatural angle and he was almost certain what had just happened.

"I knew because that's what happened to me," Hood said.

When the official diagnosis came down, Hood was proven right - though this is one time he would have been ecstatic to be wrong. Noel has a torn ACL and will undergo reconstructive surgery soon, the same surgery Hood had after he sustained the same injury as Noel in similar fashion. The injury - which happened in a summer pickup game - and the rehabilitation that followed cost Hood the entire 2011-12 season, which means the two teammates are members a fraternity into which no athlete wants to be initiated.

"When I see the footage of him go down, the picture of him go down, my knee hurts," Hood said.

Hood couldn't help but recall the emotional pain of his own injury, too. He can remember appreciating the flood of well wishes, but he also remembers that there was a part of him that just wanted to be left alone to process it all. That's why Hood sent a text message to Noel offering support but has not yet visited him in person.

"I think it was you don't want that pity from somebody," Hood said. "The biggest thing is, yeah it happened, let's not remember it. Don't make me remember it again because it hurts."

In a cruel twist, the misfortune that has befallen Noel has opened up the possibility of an expanded role for the now-healthy Hood.

The junior guard has seen spot duty so far this season, averaging 4.4 minutes over 14 games as UK (17-7, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) prepares for a rematch with Tennessee (13-10, 5-6 SEC) at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday. With Noel and his team-leading 31.9 minutes per game removed from the rotation, Hood will in all likelihood be asked to step up.

"One guy's misery is another guy's opportunity," John Calipari said.

The circumstances are different, but Hood says his approach will remain the same.

"I'll be ready to play just like I always have been," Hood said. "I'll come in and do what I'm supposed to, whatever that may be: defense, rebound, shoot an open shot, whatever it is."

Calipari has consistently praised Hood for his effort level on the practice floor and that was no different Friday. The next challenge is making it translate to games.

"Jon Hood in practice yesterday, he's competing his butt off," Calipari said. "So I can see him going in. I said, 'It's not us believing in Jon; it's Jon believing in Jon.' But you've got to go on that court, demonstrated performance is the only way to build self-esteem, self-confidence."

Adversity has a way of testing a person's mettle. Noel's injury will do that for Hood, and Calipari believes he can rise to the occasion. Hood believes his team will do the same.

"It's more of a thing that now we really have to come together," Hood said. "That's all. We weren't fully together and I think this is the thing that will bring us to that point."

Calipari looking for help from Cats in doling out minutes

Coach Cal certainly doesn't have as much depth with which to work in Noel's absence. He will have to operate with a shortened rotation, but don't think for a moment that means he will stop using the bench as a means to motivate.

"We don't talk enough, we don't play for the team enough," Calipari said. "And what I mean by that is, if they make a mistake, if things don't go right, they just, a couple guys - it's two - when they hang their head, they got to come out. The minute you see it, 'Get out. You're zapping us.' "

As poorly as UK responded in many ways during a loss at Florida on Tuesday - especially in the backcourt - there was one notable positive development. Rather than leaving it to Calipari alone to identify when players needed to be removed from the game, the Cats began to speak up. As he normally does when players step out on a limb and make suggestions, Coach Cal listened.

"One of the things they did I loved in the game is, they subbed a guy or two," Calipari said. "They just came over to me and said, 'Get him out. Scared to death. Get him out.' And I took the guy out. And I said, 'You got to hold each other accountable.' "

That's no easy thing for a young team though, which has forced Calipari into the "bad cop" role. If the Cats begin policing themselves though, that's when real change could begin to happen.

"And I think they know it, and I think you'll see guys be subbed out by their teammates," Calipari said. " 'Get 'em out.' Because it's just: Let's be an effort team. Let's be an energy team. If you can't play that way, then don't play."

Calipari weighs in once more on 'one and done'

Anyone who has actually listened to Coach Cal knows of his distaste for the "one-and-done" rule. Nonetheless, since he continues to reel in top recruiting classes and send players to the NBA in short order, the opposite perception is still out there.

On Friday - after Noel's injury re-sparked the debate over when players should be able to turn pro - Calipari spelled out his feelings yet again.

"In my case, I don't like the one-and-done rule," Calipari said. "I'll deal with it, but it's not what I like. I seem to be the only one speaking out about it, unless you say, 'I can't get those kids; let them go directly to the (NBA).' "

Calipari, clearly, can get those kids. Because of that, few have spent more time thinking about how best to structure college-to-pro rules. Foremost among his priorities is the well-being of the athletes.

"Let's do what's right for the kids," Calipari said. "Let's make sure we're putting education on the front burner here."

Many have suggested in the wake of Noel's injury that high schoolers should be allowed to bypass college altogether. Calipari disagrees, saying instead that rules should be put in place that incentivize youngsters to attend college - from better disability insurance to stipends to loans.

"Now if we want this to two years, let's do something to make that happen," Calipari said. "Let's work with the (NBA) Players Association; let's get those guys in a room to try to figure out how we do it."

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