The 2013-2014 basketball season was a year of adjustments for James Hodges.
On the court, the Johnson senior was learning the ropes of playing center for the Knights, moving from his native
Off of it, he was learning how to become a father.
Hodges’ son, Liam, was born during the offseason. Rather than give up the sport altogether, he created a balance between family and basketball.
“It was pretty hard, with practices and having to work and take care of him,” Hodges said. “Usually, after games, my girlfriend and my son would come over and spend the night with me.”
Nevertheless, Hodges made it all fall into place. While attending school, working and taking care of Liam, he averaged a team-best 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, serving as a cornerstone in Johnson’s 24-6 season that included a second consecutive Region 8-AAAA title and the team’s first Lanierland Tournament title in 25 years.
For his efforts, Hodges is the The Times’ Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“He’s just a special kid — we’re going to miss him,” Knights coach Jeff Steele said. “I don’t know if I ever coached anybody like James, in terms of being to do what he can do with what he had to work with.”
Until this season, Hodges’ career was strictly at the forward position. He was always an effective rebounder, but also possessed a solid shot from long range and had just enough size to be a physical force when driving to the basket.
When former Johnson center Montrell McKenzie graduated following the 2012-2013 season, Hodges was moved inside permanently as the Knights’ new post presence. A 6-foot-2 lefty, Hodges was small for the position, but his rebounding ability in the paint made him the team’s best fit for the job.
“It was a new experience for me playing in the post,” Hodges said. “I had no idea what I was doing, so I was pretty nervous. After playing a couple of games, I got pretty cool with the post and started liking it.”
Among Hodges’ notable games was a 38-point performance against Lanier on Jan. 17, helping Johnson crack the 100-point barrier for the second of what would be four times in the season.
He scored 23 points and had 11 rebounds in a 71-68 loss to Buford three days later, securing a double-double despite battling the Wolves’ 6-8, 255-pound Connecticut commit Rakim Lubin at the post for the entirety of the game.
“It was hard, because during the season I hadn’t seen someone that big and athletic,” Hodges said. “He just challenged me a lot, but I think I did pretty good against him.”
Hodges’ rebounding best was 16 against Eastside on Jan. 24, but Johnson lost the game 62-57. It ended up costing the Knights the top seed for the Region 8-AAAA tournament, and they settled for No. 2.
From there, the Knights made it a team goal to bounce back from what ended up being their only region loss of the season and topple Eastside. They cruised through the tournament, then pounded the Eagles 88-67 in the championship game.
Hodges scored a team-high 23 points and 10 rebounds in what he calls his fondest memory of the season.
“All year long we were talking about revenge,” Hodges said. “When we got back to them, we just played our hardest and got the win.”
Two games later, his basketball career ended with Johnson’s loss to Sandy Creek in the second round of the Class AAAA Tournament.
But Hodges didn’t depart the Knights’ court without leaving his own legacy. A very unique one, according to Steele.
“We’d walk into the locker room sometimes and he’d be sitting in there eating a hamburger,” Steele said. “As a coach, you don’t want your other guys to emulate that, but he’s ready to play when the lights come on and people get in the stands.
“He wasn’t a ‘rah-rah’ guy. He led by the way he played. He led by example, rather than talk it, he just walked it.”
Steele still recalls the first time he laid eyes on Hodges — on an opposing team.
Hodges played for Flowery Branch as a freshman, draining five 3-pointers and scoring 30 points against Johnson in the Lanierland Tournament.
Three years later as a rising senior at Johnson, Steele finally saw Hodges’ full potential as one of the area’s premier scoring and rebounding dual-threats. The Knights scrimmaged against players from Tennessee Tech, and Hodges still managed to find the basket and rebound effectively against players much larger than himself.
“I knew then he had some special talent, as far as being able to work around that,” Steele said. “He didn’t prefer to play inside, but he did what we needed him to do, and he took care of business.”
The next chapter of Hodges’ life carries some uncertainty. He hasn’t made a final decision on his future in basketball, and currently remains focused on the rigors of fatherhood.
One thing is certain, though. He’ll be remembered as a driving force behind two years of unprecedented success for Johnson boys basketball.
“We had shooters, we had penetrators, we had guys who could get the ball and dish it to other players,” Hodges said. “Everyone playing their roles helped us win a lot of games this year.”