Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood had no issues taking a backseat to Jabari Parker during their lone season playing alongside one another at Duke University during the 2014 season. There were times where the smooth, 6-8, lefty captain would get his shine, but the focus was always undoubtedly on Parker. So much so, that Hood was overlooked on Draft night and fell out of the lottery down to the 23rd pick, where the Jazz made him their second selection of the first round after taking Dante Exum with the fifth overall pick.

As teams who severely miscalculated by taking the likes of Jordan Adams, Nik Stauskas, James Young and Tyler Ennis over Hood are finding out now; Hood is an impact player on the rise who is currently in the midst of playing the best basketball of his career. Averaging 19 ppg on 46 percent shooting and 43 percent from three since the beginning of January, the Jazz are now thriving as a team with the emergence of Hood, and are right in the middle of the Western Conference playoff chase.

Last season Hood dealt with a foot injury during his rookie campaign that limited him to just 50 games, but once he was inserted into the starting lineup and his role expanded toward the end of last season, he hasn’t looked back. With being fully healthy this season and on one of the top defensive teams in the League, Hood is rightfully receiving the recognition his game demands.

But he isn’t content with the success he’s having this season.

SLAM caught up with Hood over the weekend during a road trip in Portland to discuss being a part of All-Star Weekend as a Rising Star, adjusting to life in Utah, and the Jazz’s continuing improvement as a team.

SLAM: What did it mean to you to be selected for the Rising Stars Challenge after missing last year’s game due to injury?

Rodney Hood: Just going back to last year, I was real motivated just watching that game and seeing my peers playing. It was one of my goals this year to make that game and I put in a lot of hard work; early mornings, getting shots up and just getting better. To be selected and to be in a position to play in that game, it was a real honor.

SLAM: How was it also playing alongside two of your Jazz teammates; Raul Neto and Trey Lyles and with your former Blue Devil teammate, Jabari Parker?

RH: That made it real special. Two of my current teammates, who are very deserving as well because they’re having really good seasons and as far as playing with Jabari, even though we weren’t out there together at times, it was just fun being on the sidelines and being in the locker room with him again. Also having Jahlil Okafor out there, you kind of think of what it would have been like had me and Jabari stayed another year (at Duke). It was just fun being around that atmosphere with those guys.

SLAM: What’s it like to be around that atmosphere of having most of the game’s greatest players, former and current, all in one city for various events and gatherings and to know that you’re a part of that?

RH: It’s very motivating. Just to see some of the legendary players. Magic was there, Shaq, and I can go on for days. I saw a lot of guys that I watched as a little kid. Just seeing the guys in the All-Star Game—guys that you play against all the time—to see them in that atmosphere, it was great and motivating as well. Someday, hopefully, the guys in that Rising Stars Game will get to play in that Sunday game as well. It was just a fun atmosphere. You just soak it up because you just never know if you’ll get that chance again.

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SLAM: During a weekend filled with memorable moments, what was your favorite moment?

RH: That’s a tough one. There were a lot of moments, but I would say just interacting with the fans was my favorite. I had a couple of appearances where I got to interact with the fans. They really love basketball. They understand the game so well, and just being around that was amazing. Just like it was a celebration for all the players, it was also a celebration for the fans also.

SLAM: I saw that one of those appearances was at an event for the Special Olympics. How was that experience?

RH: It was fun, getting a chance to work with AC Green and Lindsay Whalen. I’m a big fan of women’s basketball and she’s one of the best players in the WNBA. Jeremy Lamb was there as well. It was fun being able to see the kids because they’re really talented and smart kids. Getting a chance to work with them really puts things in perspective. It just gives you further appreciation for what you’re blessed to do.

SLAM: There’s always this outside perception of Utah until you talk to some of the former and current players there. Can you tell me a little bit about the culture and how you’ve adjusted to living there?

RH: Coming to Utah, there was a little bit of an adjustment, just because I’m from the South (Mississippi), and I went to a college in the South at Duke. Coming out here to Utah, it was a little bit different, but it’s still the same—real good people, great fans and off to itself a little bit, as far as the map. But it’s a great place to be. A lot of tourists come in to go skiing. It’s a great place for me and I’ve gotten used to it as time has went on. It’s been fun. It’s a blue-collar city. They love the Jazz, regardless if we’re doing good or not. They come out and support us every single game. It’s been fun.

SLAM: Even with you guys having such a young core, every rookie has that one veteran that he leans on. Who was that vet for you last season?

RH: When I first came in, it was Steve Novak. He was with us last year. I came in as a shooter and he’s a guy I leaned on. He gave me a routine to keep sharp and he just told me to keep shooting, even when you don’t feel like it. That’s something I really took in and took to heart because he’s someone that’s done it for so long, and his days in New York were amazing.

SLAM: Being in Utah, it’s almost like you guys are outta sight at times. There’s not that many Jazz games on national TV, so how does it feel to be receiving the recognition that you are this season after slipping down to 23rd in the Draft and dealing with injuries last season?

RH: It feels great. To be honest, I feel like in Utah, we do have to do more, win more, and do more individually to be recognized in this League. It’s been fun, though. A lot of hard work for me has paid off. My thing is just do your work and everything will come to light. Whatever you do during the summer, in the early mornings, everything will come to light. We’re in the mix now, trying to make the Playoffs. Hopefully we can do that and shine even more light on Utah.

SLAM: Just talking to people around the League, everyone has nothing but positive things to say about Coach Quinn Snyder. Just how much has he helped your development?

RH: He’s been amazing! He’s rare, as far as head coaching goes, as he still works with us as if he’s an assistant coach. Meaning he’s very hands-on. He comes on the court with you, works with you on different things to help your game. Even during the game, you may be in a little funk and he’ll see something there and he’ll talk to you in a way to get you going. He’s a great friend to all of us as well. Even though he’s tough on us at times, he makes sure all of us are good off the court as well, and that’s rare on the NBA level.

SLAM: You became a father last month, so congrats, first of all.

RH: Thanks man.

SLAM: How has your son changed your overall outlook on things and how is it juggling being a professional athlete and a new parent?

RH: I love it. It’s been fun. Since the day he’s been born, it just changed everything about my outlook and how I look at life now. It kind of puts things into perspective more. After basketball and after practice are over, I transition to being a father and make sure he’s all right. That added responsibility has really helped me a lot with being more focused on my job because I’m feeding a family now. It’s different. It just gives you more push and ambition. It’s been fun, though. I’m still learning how to change diapers [laughs]. But overall it’s been fun.

SLAM: With the team’s improvement over the last two seasons, have you seen a shift in the ways opposing teams now prepare for you and play you guys?

RH: I think we’ve felt that all season. Coming into this season, people were expecting us to do big things. We’ve had some injuries, but teams are playing really hard against us because they expect that from us now. We’re going to come out every single possession and play hard. Defensively, we’re one of the better teams in the League. Teams are being more physical with us. They come into Utah now and they know it’s going to be tough and that’s fun. Last season, we were just trying to get better as a team. This season, we’re in games, having heated battles with good teams and it’s been fun learning how to win games in those type of situations.

SLAM: Is the team’s primary goal to make the Playoffs?

RH: To be honest, not really. We just want to do well as a team and to keep improving. We want to be a playoff team this season yes, but I don’t look at it as Playoffs-or-bust because we’re still the second youngest team in the League. But at the same time, that would propel our rebuilding process even further, even faster heading into next season and for seasons to come. For me personally, I just want to play well, help this team as much as I can and to continue to score the ball, play defense. Whatever I can to do to help this team get to where we need to be, that’s what I’m about, and want to do.