It’s been almost exactly a year since Rodney Hood’s left Achilles tendon gave out on him late in the first quarter of a game versus the Los Angeles Lakers on December 6, 2019 at the Moda Center. But that wouldn’t be the only hardship he’d endure over the last 12 months, as he lost his AAU coach, father-in-law and a nephew to various tragedies during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s just tough. Me, I’m not a guy who’s dealt with a lot of death in my life, so when it hits you, it hits hard, you question different things,” said Hood. “It’s been tough, it’s been tough all the way around, but it’s part of life.”
But after a difficult year, Hood made his full return to the court by joining his teammates in their first official training camp practice Tuesday afternoon at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin. While he had returned to on-court workouts some time ago, Tuesday was the first time he had played five-on-five since rupturing his Achilles 368 days prior.
“I feel good. I’ve been playing for the last probably two, maybe three weeks and I feel good,” said Hood. “I’m excited about where I’m at. There’s been a lot of work put in and I’m ready to get started.”
Hood, entering his seventh season out of Duke, will be closely monitored by the team’s health and performance staff and could very well be on a minutes restriction in an effort to lessen the chance of injury. But in his first day playing full-court, five-on-five since December 2019, the 6-8 wing, who recently re-signed for the next two seasons, didn’t necessarily look like a player who has spent most of the last year watching from the sidelines.
“I thought he looked good,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I felt glad for him. It’s been almost a year to the day since he got injured and I was talking with him about that. I think he felt good out there, he went through the whole practice. I didn’t see any drawbacks. You wouldn’t have known that he missed the year.”
While Hood might look the same despite the injury, the Trail Blazers have changed significantly since he last participated in a full practice. With Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. being acquired via trade and free agency, respectively, Carmelo Anthony returning for a second season and Gary Trent Jr. earning a role thanks to his strong play in the Orlando bubble, the rotation on the wing is markedly different than it was back when Hood suffered the injury. And Stotts has already said that Covington and Jones Jr. are likely to start, at least when the season tips off on December 23.
But according to Hood, he’s not concerned about the competition since his primary interest is the Trail Blazers winning as many games as possible.
“I know what I bring to the table: my ability to shoot the ball, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions, two through the four,” said Hood. “It’s going to be different times during the season where minutes may go up or down, I’m just ready for whatever. I’m happy to be back out on the court. Whatever role that I’ll be in and whatever minutes that I get, I’m just grateful to be playing a game I love again.”
Having a number of options on the wing also gives Hood time to work his way back from injury. Achilles injuries are notoriously difficult to rehabilitate, both physically and mentally, so being able to ease into training camp without the pressure of needing to be 100 percent right away will greatly reduce the chance of re-injury.
“He’s obviously got to get more comfortable, first practice in over a year,” said CJ McCollum of Hood. “I think the biggest thing when you come off injury -- I haven’t had one of that magnitude, but lower extremity -- it’s the confidence. I think the skill is all there, it’s just getting used to the movement, being able to get hit. You land awkwardly and then you kind of get over the fear of re-injuring something, so I think he’s going to go though that process. It will be good to get through some more practices before we play on Friday, but I thought he looked good, he looked comfortable.”
While getting back to the player he was before the injury is the goal, that’s not the case with regard to how he views himself as a person. He might have lost the ability to play in the last 12 months, but he gained a perspective, both in his personal and professional lives, that has better equipped him to deal with hardships, no matter where they may occur. That’s one part of the injury that he’s not going to get over.
“I’m way more appreciative than I probably was before the injury, just appreciative to be out there and playing,” said Hood. “It was a bunch of days where it was pretty tough, you feel like giving up or whatever the case may be, I’ve got a strong support system. But I just learned that there’s more to life than basketball but you also have to be appreciative of everything that you’ve got.”