A quick study at UMBC

Junior guard Brian Hodges rarely starts, but he leads the team in scoring and is on pace to graduate this spring, a year early

January 18, 2007|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun reporter

Whether he is in the classroom or on the basketball court, UMBC junior guard Brian Hodges is determined to make the most of his time.

Hodges has been in the starting lineup just three times this season for the Retrievers, who over the past two years have discovered quite the sixth man in their rotation. This season, Hodges leads the team with a 16.2-point average despite playing just 24.9 minutes per game.

A native of Prince George's County and a graduate of Bishop McNamara High School, Hodges also plans to earn a degree in finance economics this spring - a year ahead of schedule. He aims to have a master's in economics by age 23.

When he is done with basketball, Hodges will train his focus on something bigger. Some day, he wants to be a chief executive or financial officer of a Fortune 500 company.

"I've always liked math and money," said Hodges, 20, who is 13 credits shy of his undergraduate degree. "I've learned how to manage my time well. I know what I can do and what I can't do. It's not like I don't have a life. I still like to go out with my friends. I'm having the complete college experience."

During his time at UMBC, Hodges has pushed himself to become a complete player. He arrived in Catonsville as not much more than a spot-up, three-point shooter. Now he's a pure scorer who creates points in different ways and presents matchup problems because of it.

His ball-handling has improved significantly. That allows Hodges to bait defenders, then drive by them. His mid-range jumper has come a long way.

Weight training has given him a sturdy, 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame that can absorb more contact inside and get him to the foul line, where Hodges has made 71.2 percent of his 59 attempts going into tonight's game against visiting Hartford.

Hodges is shooting 36.3 percent from three-point range, 43.5 percent overall, has led UMBC (6-12) in scoring 11 times and has been named America East Player of the Week twice.

Through it all, he hasn't changed. He still sports the same stoic demeanor he brought to the Retrievers. The highs and lows of the game don't rattle him. Even when he struggled mightily to make shots early in this and last season, prompting UMBC coach Randy Monroe to send him to the bench each time, Hodges displayed no emotion.

"I think our players feed off his tenacity," Monroe said. "Some guys would have a very difficult time with [a backup role] and not fully accept it. He's accepted his role, and the rest is history."

"As a competitor, every basketball player wants to start, but everything about Coach Monroe's decision was understandable," Hodges said. "My team still counts on me to put up numbers. I know a lot depends on me."

Val Hodges, Brian's father, said his son has always been the quiet, analytical type who has kept his feelings largely to himself.

"He's a real hard kid to read, unless you kind of pry it out of him," said Val, a procurement contract manager for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. "As a freshman [at UMBC], he was fortunate enough to hit the winning shot in a game, and he showed absolutely no emotion whatsoever.

"He doesn't say much about the academic side, either. He just gets it done. Since the third or fourth grade, he's never gotten a B. That's the part that makes me stick my chest out."

Hodges might have pursued his goals on a more prestigious campus. Cornell, Penn and Columbia were among the schools that seriously recruited him. Hodges graduated from Bishop McNamara with a grade point average that exceeded 4.0.

But UMBC came calling with a full athletic scholarship, something Ivy League schools don't offer. That held much sway in the Hodges family, which includes Brian's mother, Jacqueline, a loan officer; and his younger sister, Brittani, a freshman at Temple. The Hodges family is paying her way.

Hodges is looking for another payoff this spring. He wants to help the Retrievers, now 2-3 in the America East after a 2-0 start, get in position to contend for a conference title and an NCAA tournament berth.

Said senior guard Chris Pugh: "[Hodges] blended right in as a freshman, he's worked on a new aspect of his game every year, and now he's our go-to guy. He's definitely going to have a lot to say about how far we go." gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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