Throwback Thursday: Julius Hodge
June 13, 2013
RALEIGH, N.C. - If you are a true North Carolina State basketball fan, you already know about his 2,040 career points. You already know about his spectacular four-year career - capped off with ACC Player of the Year honors for his efforts during his senior campaign in 2005. If you're a true Wolfpack fan, you know the player in question is none other than Julius Melvin Hodge, the 3rd leading scorer of all-time at North Carolina State University.
The Harlem, N.Y., native and 2001 McDonald's All-American out of St. Raymond High School (Bronx, N.Y.) enrolled at NC State in the fall of 2001 and the rest is history. Amid heavy expectations, Hodge delivered the goods.
When the smoke cleared, Hodge etched out one of the finest careers in the history of the program. Despite running out of eligibility at the collegiate level in 2005, Hodge was just getting started on a basketball journey that has since seen him play professionally on four different continents.
After Hodge wrapped up his legendary career at State, preparation immediately ensued for the 2005 NBA draft.
While most draft participants flocked to destination workout facilities in places like Florida or Las Vegas, Hodge remained in Raleigh to finish his degree.
"I never understood the guys who leave campus as soon as the season's over, the guys who abandon their degree. The best players in the world only play basketball until they're about 34, so you always have to have a back up plan. Education is important," says Hodge.
Instead of splitting town, Hodge stayed on campus and worked with Eric Lichter, a weight and strength training specialist.
"Eric was great man. We did all types of stuff to really help me get an advantage. We did a lot of explosion work with different weight regimens. Eric helped me get up to 218 pounds and I think the extra weight was really helpful during live competition," Hodge recalls.
Today, Eric Lichter is the Director of Football Performance for Ohio State University.
In the days leading up to the draft, Hodge was both excited and nervous. With some tremendous workouts in front of NBA general managers, Hodge's draft stock continued to steadily improve. Entering draft day, Hodge was confident he would be a first round draft pick. When the Denver Nuggets announced their first round selection, the 20th overall pick in the 2005 draft, Hodge's confidence came to fruition.
Hodge recalls draft day fondly, saying, "Getting drafted into the NBA was hands down one of the best days of my life. Growing up, playing in the NBA was my lifelong goal. Getting drafted was a blessing and I was lucky to be able to realize my dream."
After two years in the NBA, Hodge decided it would be in his best interest to embark on a career overseas. While Hodge received several invitations to NBA training camps, he had no guaranteed NBA offers. In the fall of 2007, Hodge accepted an offer from Pallacanestro Varese, a professional basketball club that plays in Lega Basket Serie A, the top level of Italian basketball. The Italian professional basketball lifestyle had its perks, as Hodge moved into a 5 bedroom home provided by the Varese, Italy based team. The team also provided him with a vehicle and a lifestyle that Hodge was comfortable with.
After his time in Italy, Hodge moved on to play in Australia with two clubs called The Adelaide 36ers (2007 - 2009) and The Melbourne Tigers (2009 - 2010). It was in Australia that Hodge began to see some of the beauties of the world outside the United States. Hodge calls Australia "by far" the most beautiful place he has played professionally, citing Melbourne as one of his favorite cities in the world. Despite his love for the "land down under," he received a contract offer for the 2010 - 2011 season that he could not refuse. The offer came from the Petrochimi Bandar Imam Basketball Club, an Iranian professional basketball club based in Mahshahr, Iran. They compete in the Iranian Basketball Super League. While the money was great in Iran, Hodge did not enjoy living in Iran as much as some of his other countries.
"I enjoyed playing in Iran, but the lifestyle out there was one that I just never could get used to. I couldn't walk more than 10 meters without an officer of the law asking me for identification, or what I was doing in Iran. It was not a family environment. I just didn't feel comfortable out there," says Hodge.
For the 2011 - 2012 season, Hodge moved on to play for BC Tsmoki-Minsk, a basketball club based in Minsk, Belarus. The team plays in the Belarus Premier League, the VTB United League and the EuroChallenge.
"Belarus was cool. I was in a beautiful city called Minsk. People there weren't as warm to Americans as they had been in some other cities, but I enjoyed my time there nonetheless. Iranians get a bad reputation for not liking Americans, but I had a much more difficult time in Minsk. Due to a weak economy, the team ended up having trouble making payments to me on time. Since the payments were not as frequent as they were supposed to be, I ended up using a clause in my contract to end my time with the club before the season ended," explains Hodge.
After Belarus, Hodge signed a contract to play for the Saigon Heat during the 2011 - 2012 season, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
"Being able to live in that part of the world was definitely an adventure. My family even lived over there with me for a few months. People really appreciated basketball over there. People loved basketball so much; they did whatever they could to keep playing. It was crazy actually. For the first time in my professional career, other players had 9-5 jobs. During the daytime, one of my teammates was a chef; another one was a police officer. You know the age old joke, `don't quit your day job'? These guys actually didn't. It was very different from what I was used to," Hodge recalls.
The 2012 - 2013 season saw Hodge join forces with a couple former ACC foes. Playing for Levallois Basket, a Paris, France based basketball club, Hodge was a teammate of Sean May and Jawad Williams, two former North Carolina Tar Heels.
"It's actually funny because I have known Jawad since we were about 13 years old from playing basketball against each other. Jawad and I are really cool. Jawad and I played on the Adidas AAU Circuit since we were kids. Sean, though, that took some getting used to. Even though he's a Tar Heel, I ended up gaining a ton of respect for Sean. He's a really smart player and because of his high basketball IQ he was really enjoyable to play with," Hodge explains.
For next season, Hodge has yet to determine exactly where he will be playing.
"I'm not sure exactly where I'll be next year yet, but I know I'll be playing somewhere. I'll probably either be back in France or the Middle East. I've been fielding a lot of interest. I haven't made a decision yet."
There is no timetable for the decision, as Hodge says whenever the right offer comes, he'll jump on it. For now, his plans are to remain in Raleigh with his wife and two children to continue his grueling offseason workout regimen on campus at State.
For Hodge, a self proclaimed "movie buff," the overseas life is one that took some getting used to initially, but he now very much enjoys. When overseas, he spends his free time finding movie theatres that have English voiceovers or subtitles. If no theatres are playing American movies, he hangs out at his apartment watching American television shows like Family Guy, Game of Thrones, and True Blood. Hodge also spends his time following his Wolfpack basketball family closely, no matter where in the world he is playing.
Hodge credits his time at State as the foundation of his maturity and ability to stay focused overseas. Hodge reflects on his time at State fondly.
"Looking back at my years at NC State, the number one thing I'm thankful for is the way NC State helped me transition from being a young adolescent into a grown, educated, young black man. It was definitely four years that I loved and will cherish forever."
As excited as Hodge gets about his previous experiences in Raleigh, it is the future of NC State that continues to excite Hodge.
"The biggest thing anyone will realize coming to NC State is that it's just a great family atmosphere. Since I've been back in the summers, Coach Gottfried has treated me like I was one of his own. Just from being around in the summers I see that Coach Gottfried expects the most from his players but he will be there to help bring it out. The current coaching staff does a great job of developing players. Not to mention the fact that it's a great league. The ACC was already stacked to begin with but now adding Pitt, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Louisville - the future of the league and NC State is as bright as it gets."
It's very telling that when Hodge returns home from overseas each and every offseason, he returns to live in Raleigh. It tells you how much he loves not just the city of Raleigh, but North Carolina State University. For a New York City kid, Raleigh offers Hodge a peaceful existence that might not be easy to attain if he went home to Harlem. Spending his off-seasons in Raleigh makes Hodge happy. The appreciation created during his time at State proves that his most beloved recollections of NC State extend far greater than the basketball floor. Julius Hodge is a prime example of how playing basketball at NC State can raise you to great heights, both on and off the court.
This summer, Hodge can be found working his youth basketball camp, Camp24Hodge. Camp24Hodge will take place June 17th-20th at Grand Slam USA on 4500 Western Blvd in Raleigh. The camp is for both boys and girls ages 6-15. To register, visit Camp24Hodge.com. Visit Camp24Hodge to learn more about a special rate for anybody who's a Wolfpacker. The offer involves enrollment for 2 for the price of 1 when registering with the promotional code "Wolfpacker." Register soon as spots are filling up fast!