"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.