March 14, 2014
RALEIGH, N.C. - If you are an NC State basketball fan, you know the name Julius Hodge. Some fans remember him as the charismatic, skinny, trash-talking player from Harlem who helped lead the Pack to an NCAA Tournament bid in each of his four seasons. Others remember his memorable post-game interviews and competitiveness on the court, especially against the Pack's biggest rivals.
Many people currently know him as an outspoken personality both on twitter (@Follow24Hodge) and through many of the local media outlets in Raleigh.
But only a few people know Julius Hodge, the teammate.
GoPack.com recently caught up with Will Roach and Levi Watkins, a pair of former Hodge teammates who agreed to give Wolfpack fans an inside perspective on playing alongside one of NC State's all-time greats.
GoPack.com: When did you first meet Julius?
Roach: I met him when he took his official visit here. First time I played with him was the summer before our freshman year.
Watkins: Unlike the other guys in our recruiting class, he was the only one I did not meet prior to coming to summer schoo1 in 2001. Obviously he was a very good player, a very highly recruited guy in our class, so I heard of him but never met him until both of us were in Raleigh.
GoPack.com: What was your first impression of Julius?
Roach: During a pick-up game in the summer when Julius was an incoming freshman, his team won the first time we played and he started to chant, `This is my gym!' That is one of the things that I have always loved about Julius, he's got the largest heart and passion for winning. He doesn't have the prettiest jump shot, many say he can't jump, but he hates to lose at anything. My first impression was that of an incoming freshman chanting and not backing down to anybody from the first time he stepped on the court here at NC State.
Watkins: Right off the bat, and I don't want to stereotype, but all New Yorkers are very confident and very outspoken. He was that from day one. You could tell from very early on he was a guy that you would love to have on your team but definitely did not want to play against. He had that personality right off the bat, and he carried it throughout his career.
GoPack.com: At NC State, were you ever roommates?
Roach: I only roomed with him on some road trips, including an ACC Tournament our last season. He was a great roommate, even though he never stops talking. That is just his personality. As everybody knows, he has a large personality so I enjoyed those times.
Watkins: I never roomed with him, but he was a suitemate of mine. Jordan Collins and I were together in one room, and we shared a suite with Julius and Josh Powell in the other room. After that first year, we never roomed together, but he never lived too far off campus because he initially did not have a car. Like all New Yorkers I know, he was a bad driver anyways, so he never lived too far because nobody wanted him driving.
GoPack.com: What does it mean to you to have played with an ACC Player of the Year?
Roach: I don't know if I ever think of him in those regards even now, because I was so close to what was going and because Julius never tried to separate himself as that person. Its huge to think back now about those accolades, but he never separated himself or made it about him at all during his whole career.
Watkins: He did a lot of things for our program. Our recruiting class came in and we went to four straight NCAA Tournaments and he was at the forefront. He was a very talented player, he drew a lot of attention but was very unselfish. He made a lot of the other players on our team better, and I was one of them. Winning was number one for him. He was never into those personal accolades. Even when he won the awards he always talked about his teammates.
GoPack.com: What was practice with Julius like?
Roach: I guarded him almost every day in practice, so we lined up against each other quite often. There were multiple times me and Julius almost got into fights. The coaches wanted practice very competitive and intense, so we would always get into it when we guarded each other. Off the court, he is like a brother. He has the best personality off the court, and on the court he brings so much passion. He will do pretty much anything not to lose.
Watkins: Like I said, especially during practice, he was a guy you love to play with but hate to play against. In practice, there were many times when we would go against each other and those are the times I did not like him on the court. But it was good, our team was so competitive against each other. Playing against him, you had to bring your A-Game every day in practice.
GoPack.com: Did you try to match him in terms of the trash talk?
Roach: We get into it when we play, and honestly, as we have gotten older we have been on the same team many times so not as much jawing. From that perspective, it was a lot of fun to watch him getting into it with other guys. Two summers ago a bunch of us former players scrimmaged the current NC State team before they went to Spain. It was over at the PNC Arena, and I was there playing and Levi (Watkins) was coaching. Before the game Levi and me were talking and Levi said, at what point of time today does Julius point up to his jersey and call this his gym? I told Levi it would happen in the first half, Levi said the first 10 minutes. Literally, it happened during warm-ups.
Watkins: If you ask my teammates, Julius was definitely a trash talker and I was myself. His was a little bit known because he was a little bit more in the forefront, but that is why it was interesting for us to go up against each other so much in practice. We fought and got after it in practice, but once it was over then it was over. I consider him almost like a brother, but we did have those moments in practice and trash talking was always part of his game. It actually made practice fun.
GoPack.com: Do you have a favorite quote of his?
Roach: "This is my gym." That quote just encompasses Julius, and that was his philosophy even on road games. We would play on the road and he would go down and shoot during warm-ups with the other team by himself. That was his thing, it was his gym and he was coming in to overtake it. That was how he geared himself up. His mentality was so tough and so strong especially in opposing gyms. He has all these funny quotes about hitting a deer, all this crazy stuff, but he would say that every time we stepped into a gym. Actually, a good trash talking one I love was when we played Duke the first year after Jay Williams was gone. Julius and Chris Duhon were already jawing back and forth even before the game. Julius turns and tells Duhon, "Robin doesn't look so tough without Batman." That one still makes me laugh.
Watkins: "When we hungry, we eat." It's a favorite of mine, and is still being said all the time in Raleigh. He had a lot of them, but that one really summarized how we felt as a team. Any opportunity that there was to get a win or show our dominance, we wanted to take advantage.
GoPack.com: Julius claims he never has lost a game of 1-on-1, did you ever win one?
Roach: With Julius, I will admit, I've never beaten him 1-on-1. I've beaten every one of my other teammates. I've never gotten a win on Julius, only because if you are winning, you tend not to get those close calls down the stretch. Just last weekend, we made a comment in the gym that if Julius and T.J. Warren were to play today, if T.J. was about to win, the game isn't going to finish.
Watkins: Julius says that, and I have seen him lose on numerous occasions. Between him and I, believe it or not, we have never completed a 1-on-1 game against each other because of the competitiveness. He has a tendency to try to get every call he wants, and I was not a person that would back down and let him win those arguments. He may say that he has beaten me, but he never has. His claim to fame is he has never lost, but that is not the truth.
GoPack.com: What if twitter was around during Julius' career?
Roach: It was a good thing twitter was not around when we were in school. Julius found ways, he never got in big trouble but he found ways to get in trouble with some small stuff in the media. Twitter gives you 24-hour access to people, not sure that would of been the best thing for him back in our playing days
Watkins: I'm so glad social media was not around during our playing days. He definitely, definitely would of given extra fuel to our opponents without a doubt. He already did it in games and his little, slick comments in the media, but at that time there was no twitter or facebook. If he had an open mic like that while we were playing, I can tell you, the ACC was so competitive and hard he would of just made it harder for us.
GoPack.com: After a loss, what was his competitive nature like?
Roach: After losses, he would drag us into the gym with him. The guy hated to lose, and when he did he had to vent it out somehow. He couldn't go home and relax or go home and go to sleep. My favorite story: we lost at Maryland. When the bus got us back to Reynolds, it was probably 1:30 a.m. We had a tough game, even before we got off the bus Julius told me to get my ankles braces and Marcus (Melvin) wanted to come play too. The three of us went up, not only played 1-on-1-on-1 but battled till almost 3:30 a.m. He just couldn't accept that loss, and he had to vent it out. That happened all the times we lost.
Watkins: He was always one of those guys that would go back into the gym as soon as we landed regardless of what time it was. If he had a bad game, he would really bring an extra focus into practice. We had a team full of guys like that, he was just more boisterous. He had a lot of self-pride in his game and in us winning, and he shouldered a lot of that. We had a good mix those seasons, and that is why we won a lot of games.