Cut from his seventh grade team in his first attempt to play organized basketball Hodzic dedicated himself to constant improvement in all phases of the game. Everyday he works on getting better at the sport he loves.
“I was the biggest kid on the court and I was cut the first day,” Hodzic said. “I cried for six straight days. Honestly I probably wasn’t good enough.
“I played against that coach in an open gym game this past summer. I dunked on him one time and just pointed at him. He could help but laugh.”
Friday Hodzic was named the Sporting News Player of the Year in the Atlantic Sun Conference. He was also named A-Sun Player of the Year earlier this month by the Atlantic Sun coaches and sports information directors. He led the Atlantic Sun in scoring with 22.7 points per game and was second in rebounding with 9.1 per game. He has scored in double figures 57 straight games, the longest streak in the nation.
In his final three games of the season he finished with double-doubles with an average of 30 points and 18.3 rebounds. What a difference hard work, discipline and patience can make.
“People thought I had a great year, but there were a lot of games where I was upset with myself. I should have been getting double figures in rebounds in every game.
“I was playing tentative. I was trying to figure out my value. I knew I had a whole other different level to go to and I still think I can go to an even higher level.”
As a high school player Hodzic played in the shadows of Eric Gordon, one of the top players in the country who is in his second season with the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.
He averaged 14 points and seven rebounds a game as senior at North Central High School in Indianapolis, Ind. When Lipscomb assistant basketball coach Jay Walton first saw Hodzic in action the first thing he noticed was his 6-foot-9, 249-pound frame. Mid-major schools don’t always get the opportunity to sign players with that physical stature.
“When I first saw him I knew he was physically ready to play at the next level,” Walton said. “His body was ready for college basketball.
“Once I got to know him the more I realized that he works at it. He was hungry. He was eager to improve. He likes playing basketball. He likes to be in the gym.”
Both Walton and Bisons head coach Scott Sanderson knew that Hodzic had talent. But even in their wildest projections they did not expect him to earn dual player of the year awards in his junior season.
“I felt like at the time we signed him that he could be one of the best post players in our league,” Walton said. “I didn’t realize it was going to happen that soon. I didn’t know he was going to be a first team all-conference guy as a sophomore. I had no idea he was going to be able to go out and get 20 points every night. That is a credit to him.”
Sanderson admits it is often hard to project what a player is going to do in college, especially a post player. As a freshman Hodzic averaged 8.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, good enough to earn All-Freshman team honors in the A-Sun. In his last eight games he averaged 14.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Sanderson would have been pleased if he had continued that pace the rest of his career.
“He has turned out better over the long haul of his career than we anticipated,” Sanderson said. “There was no way we would have known when we recruited him that he would turn into this type of player. Very seldom do you get quality big men at our level who play like he does now. A lot of it goes back to his ability and his work ethic.
“He is a very good student too because he works at it. He has some discipline about him both on and off the floor.”
Walton knew Hodzic could do more offensively, but again, he never anticipated the level the Bosnian native has taken his game.
“I thought he had a really good strong jump hook,” Walton said. “When he got his left shoulder into you he could really score. He had a couple of nice post moves.
“As a freshman he could catch it from eight or 10 feet out and make a post move and score which was really, really rare as a freshman. He has gotten to the point now where he doesn’t always need to make a move to score. He works so hard to get it deep and get the angles.”
Sanderson still views Hodzic as a work in progress despite of his accolades. He hounded him daily this season to become a better rebounder.
“Early in his career he was not a great listener,” Sanderson said. “When he got here he didn’t understand angles or positioning in the post. He would get frustrated easily. As time has gone by he has become a better listener which has obviously helped him a lot.
“In the fall semester of his freshman year he played very little. In the spring semester he was averaging 12 points a game. He is always the first one to the gym and the last one to leave.”
Finding talented players for mid-major programs is often a perplexing job. Often coaches have to project what a player might be able to do as a college player. That includes not only evaluating physical talent, but trying to determine what is in the player’s heart.
“You try to read those things the best you can,” Sanderson said. “Sometimes you get them right. Sometimes you don’t get them right. Sometimes you get them half right.
“It just depends. Each guy is different. It is hard to project. It is kind of weird trying to pick guys out. There is no way to really know.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations